Overall, the San Jose Sharks have the look of a team on the verge of getting blown up. They’ve struggled in the postseason on a consistent basis the past few years and are getting older. Early struggles or another postseason exit could signal an overhaul for the organization.
One player in particular who needs to step his game up for the Sharks is goaltender Antti Niemi. In two years with the Sharks, Niemi really has yet to recapture the type of form that earned him a big four-year contract.
Niemi won the Stanley Cup as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. That’s the largest part of his resume, and there isn’t much else. In that season, he struggled in the time he did see and wasn’t even that impressive during the playoffs. He did show flashes of brilliance, but still finished with a save percentage of just .910.
After signing with the Sharks as a free agent in the summer of 2010, Niemi supplanted long-time netminder Evgeni Nabokov. He was expected to be their goaltender of the future. But that hasn’t really come together the way that anyone in the Sharks’ organization may have hoped it would.
In two seasons with the Sharks, Niemi has been above average, but hasn’t taken that next step to the elite level quite yet. He has 12 shutouts in two years with the Sharks, with his first year numbers just a bit better than this past season, when he finished with a 2.42 GAA and a .915 save percentage.
Aside from his play, he’s almost 30. He’s no spring chicken anymore. There are younger options out there, and even within the organization.
In order for the Sharks to be successful, Niemi is going to have to take the next step in his game. He’ll have to prove capable of putting this team on his back when the situation calls for it. The Sharks will likely have Thomas Greiss to push Niemi this year, and if he struggles I wouldn’t be surprised to see them turn to the second option.
That really goes for everyone on this team, though. If the Sharks come up short of a Stanley Cup in yet another season, then big names are going to be shopped, and this team could look much different heading into the next season. Should that happen, expect Niemi to be among the first names out there.