One of the best goalies in the NHL plays for a California team. He also happens to have a Stanley Cup ring.
Actually, that description applies to two netminders in the Golden State. I’m guessing that most people would think “Jonathan Quick” when they hear those first two sentences, at least if it weren’t for the photo and headline giving everything away.
Regardless, it’s easy to miss in sunny San Jose, but Antti Niemi is putting up the kind of numbers one would expect from a guy like Quick.
Does that make Niemi underrated? Maybe, maybe not; that phrase gets thrown around a lot. How about this: let’s call him hype-deprived, instead.
Monday seems fitting because Niemi collected a 24-save shutout, the 24th of his career - not bad since he’s only played four full seasons in the NHL - yet his goose egg didn’t even draw the most attention. Instead, Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s blanking of the Pittsburgh Penguins (deservedly) stole the headlines.
We’ll get back to that, but before we dive into game summaries and whatnot, let’s eye where Niemi rests in the goalie ranks.
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Since the Sharks snatched Niemi from the Chicago Blackhawks, Niemi has developed into one of the league’s genuine workhorses.
Niemi has played in 180 games with the Sharks beginning in the 2010-11 season, generating 101 wins. He tied for the most wins last season with 24, was alone at ninth with 34 in 2011-12 and tied for ninth with 35 in 2010-11.
He played in the fifth-most games (68) in 2011-12 and the second-most last season (43).
(Quick aside: it’s amusing to remember that Niemi had to fight off Antero Niittymaki for a bit to secure San Jose’s starting job in his first season. If you’re wondering what happened to him, the long answer is that I don’t know exactly what’s going on in 2013-14, but he played for TPS Turku in 2012-13. The short answer is “he got injured a lot.”)
And, like I mentioned before, Niemi has that Stanley Cup ring with Chicago, which I imagine a surprising amount of hockey fans have forgotten … or not given Niemi any real credit for.
His hefty games played and wins make him pretty much fantasy elite, but what about the stats that aren’t as dependent on playing for a quality team like the Sharks?
The easiest way to judge a goalie’s individual work is to look at his save percentage, as GAA doesn’t factor in degree of difficulty and so on. It turns out that Niemi is pretty strong in individual areas too.
I put together spreadsheets with goalie stats from the last three seasons, which you can peruse at your leisure. Check out how’s he done in save percentage overall (note: rankings include some guys with smaller workloads, so he’d rank higher among more regular starters).
2012-13: tied for seventh with a .924 save percentage
2011-12: tied for 22nd with .915
2010-11: 13th with .920
Many believe that total save percentages aren’t quite as indicative of quality goaltending as even-strength save percentage, as poor penalty killing can be a problem. Niemi’s just fine in even-strength save percentage, too:
2012-13: 15th with a .930 even-strength save percentage
2011-12: 26th with a .926 ES
2010-11: tied for seventh with a .931 ES
If those numbers aren’t elite, they’re awfully close. Not surprisingly, Niemi is strong at even-strength (.942) and overall (.930) so far in 2013-14.
This is all good stuff, even if he’s bound to dip - San Jose started hot and hit a big cold streak last season, for one thing - but chances are, he’ll generate quality work as long as he’s healthy. Too bad Niemi probably won’t slip under the radar much longer.
After the jump: game summaries, suspensions and injuries.