After acquiring the rights to him at the draft, the Dallas Stars have done what they set out to do and signed goalie Antti Niemi to a three year contract. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but reports have it in the neighbourhood of $4.5 million a year.
Niemi was due to become an unrestricted free agent on Monday, so the Stars got this in right under the wire. Still, there’s no reason to believe there were any concerns about signing the netminder.
“We explored every angle of it. We had our meetings back in May and we went to the free agent list for our different options for goaltending,” Stars general manager Jim Nill said. “We knew we had to make some changes, and there’s two ways we could have gone. One way was the free agent route, and the other way was to make a trade using either draft picks, prospects or players off the team.”
Niemi is coming off five years as the starter in San Jose, where he logged 296 games and went 163-92-35 with a 2.40 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. He’s second on the Sharks all-time in games played, wins and shutouts.
“Antti was the number one UFA (unrestricted free agent) that we had targeted, and we went over the course of the last four to six weeks, I’ve been talking to teams, seeing what the other options were going to be, and in the end, Antti always came up as the number one choice,” said Nill.
Nill has also settled the matter of Kari Lehtonen and says that both goalies will receive “significant playing time” in Dallas. How exactly that will work out remains to be seen and it wouldn’t be surprising if one was moved by season’s end, but this does set up a situation in which the Stars have some possibilities come the trade deadline.
In other words: if Niemi turns out to be the guy, expect Lehtonen to be moved at some point. He’s signed through the 2017-2018 season and is used to playing lots of games. Lehtonen logged 65 games in the regular season.
Niemi, too, is used to playing lots of games. As we mentioned on Saturday, he played in at least 60 games in his first four full seasons in San Jose.
On the other hand, if Niemi turns out to be a bust, Lehtonen remains the man in Dallas and the former Shark is pushed out the door.
Either way, Nill’s put himself in a decent position in terms of netminders. The clichéd upside is that Niemi “makes Lehtonen better” in goal. The reality could be different, but at least the Stars have options.