Photo Credit: Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports

This is a series counting down the top-10 pending UFAs. It will be posted across the Nation Network over the next month! Enjoy!

Antti Niemi is the most famous free-agent goalie available this summer and that should result in a big payday. NHL teams in need of a starter can look for a trade—and there are quality options available, reportedly in Ottawa and Vancouver—but adding free agent is merely a cap hit and that will have major appeal for many teams.

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Antti Niemi has been a starting goalie in the NHL for six seasons, five with the San Jose Sharks. The club originally signed Niemi after he won a $2.75 million dollar arbitration award from the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. Doug Wilson famously said at the time of the signing ‘we liked our goaltending yesterday, we like it even more today.” Source

Most of his time on the left coast has been positive, but his reputation took a hit during the 2014 playoffs (a heartbreaking period for the organization). His performance against Los Angeles that spring (Niemi finished with a 3-3 record in the seven-games, with a 3.74 goals-against average and .884 save percentage) probably sealed his fate with the organization.

The Sharks, with no clear alternative for the starting role in 2015-16, appear ready to move on from the 31-year-old Finn (turns 32 in August). In mid-April, Niemi expressed interest in returning to the Sharks, but GM Doug Wilson was non-committal. The situation remained that way through end of April and as of June 3 David Barclay of Bay Sports Net described negotiations as ‘virtually non-existent’ between Niemi and the Sharks. It is safe to assume the veteran will have a new address in the fall.


Antti Niemi has been an effective starter for the contending Sharks during his time in San Jose. Never close to the best goalie in the NHL, his best year may have been 2012-13 when his .924SP tied him for No. 7 overall in the category.

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Niemi’s performance over the last several years has been solid-to-quality but as he ages inconsistency begins to find its way into the numbers. As you can see below, the tracking for Niemi is heading in a bad direction. (Note: Quality Start Percentage is a fascinating metric, you can read more about it via Sunil Agnihotri at the Superfan. The average QS% is .530, .600 is terrific and below .500 is thanks for coming).

niemi stats

Niemi is a good goalie but at 31 years old we can see the trending and it’s in that area where consistency is an issue. He could be good next season and the year after, but the bet is less sure than it was in 2010 when the Sharks signed him (and when the re-signed him the following summer).

Aging is a major consideration for goalie bets and it is shown in the following graph (again with thanks to Sunil).

sunil's goalie aging graph

Niemi is in the range where we can expect him to become less than average in quality. NHL teams have been overpaying for exactly this player forever, and if you look back at your favorite team’s performance with veteran goalies chances are you’ll be able to think of examples. It doesn’t seem intuitively correct—we’ve been told forever about the savvy veteran—but the truth is that (with a few notable exceptions) betting on goalies after age 30 is one very bad idea. 

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Another way of looking at things is adjusted save percentage, something Darcy McLeod from Because Oilers applied to the free agent pool recently. His work is here. Quoting Darcy from the article:

  • Niemi has a good track record, but his worst two years are his
    last two years and he turns 32 in August.  San Jose got the meat of
    Niemi’s career when he was very good.  Given his track record, he will
    probably command both dollars and term.  Its an expensive bet on good,
    but declining and aging goalie.  I do not like this bet at all.


Since his arrival in San Jose, Niemi has been a workhorse goaltender. Here are his Games-started totals by year with the Sharks and the overall percentage of team starts per season:

  • 2010-11: 60 games (73%)
  • 2011-12: 68 games (83%)
  • 2012-13: 43 games (90%)
  • 2013-14: 64 games (78%)
  • 2014-15: 61 games (74%)

That’s a goalie getting a lot of playing time, and it helps his team because his durability means the backup goaltender can be a less expensive roster player. Niemi led the NHL in minutes played by a goalie (and wins) in 2012-13, a season that saw him finish No. 3 in Vezina Trophy voting.

It’s probably reasonable for a team to assume Niemi will get 70% of team starts in the next two seasons and he should provide his new club with average to slightly above average goaltending (specifically looking at quality starts, save percentage and durability).

The problem comes down to the contract, both in terms of dollars and term. Niemi is easily the most famous goalie on the market and as such is extremely likely to have more than one suitor. 

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We’re trying to find a range for Antti Niemi using the previous seasons of free agency. It’s very difficult to finding goal comparables, but I wanted to use the most prominent available examples to get a feel for the range of value.

  • 2014: Ryan Miller, age 33, signed to three years, $18 million ($6 million per season)
  • 2013: Mike Smith, age 34 signed to six years, $34 million ($5.67 million per season)

Niemi made $3.8 million on his last San Jose deal, chances are the team signing him will be able to secure the veteran for well under the cost of Miller and Smith. The circumstances surrounding Niemi’s free-agent summer—the lack of a championship in San Jose—will likely impact his signing number. It should be mentioned, however, that it only takes two teams to get involved in a bidding war. If that happens, Niemi could be looking at a ridiculous contract. 

A team acquiring Niemi should expect to pay too much, for too long, and receive two effective seasons in return for their investment. It is extremely unwise, but for some teams the absence of alternatives clears the mind. 

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  • mithaman

    Niemi would be ok. But we have had a string of “ok” goaltenders. Scrivens behind a decent team would be ok to good, look at Dubnyk. Granted the numbers from our G have been poor the last few years, but what do you expect playing behind one of the worst teams for defence in the NHL? Our D has been average at best and our young crop of forwards needs to learn when to be responsible on the back end.

    The Oilers give up ridiculous turnovers and odd man rushes and that’s because they don’t do enough to support their D. If your forwards don’t support the D, the D fail at stopping shots and your goalie faces 10-15 A-grade chances every night. Then you can’t expect any goalie to put up an average SV%. IMO Scrivens & Fasth did well to stay close to 90%.

    After years of bringing in a goalie, watch his SV% fall, trade away, watch his SV% rise, rinse and repeat it’s time to stop blaming the goalie. Granted we need a second goalie to replace Fasth and tandem with Scrivens, but whether it’s Niemi or another guy its more important that we get:

    1. A solid top line defenceman to shelter our young, upcoming D.

    2. Some roster and coaching consistency so that the players can learn to play as a group and be better defensively. Here’s hoping that Chiarelli & McLellan stick around for a while and bring some stability to this group.

    • Al Theeathoone

      The entire Oilers team had their confidence destroyed game after game this past year by poor goal tending. Scrivens let in many stoppable goals in the first minute of many games, goals on the first shot of the game many times, weak goals in the last minute of games many times, and he let one or more soft goals in dozens of times just when the team had built up some game momentum and some confidence.

      Other than the core players this team has had pretty much a wholesale change of both forwards and defense men over the past four or five years. The one thing that hasn’t been addressed and didn’t change was the inferior goal tending. A weak goal tender who lets in stoppable pucks over and over game after game can make any defense look bad and is a confidence destroyer for the entire team.

      An NHL starting goalie is capable of starting 50 to 70 games per year, playing well in most, and poorly in few. Someone that cannot do that is called a “back up”.

      Do the Oilers really need more unproven, inexperienced back up goalies hoping (wishing, dreaming) they can become starters?

  • Cowbell_Feva

    Niemi has had great teams to play on and only average numbers to go with it.

    In Edmonton he would be as bad as, or worse than Scrivey. Pass on Antti

    Talbot. Ramo. Lack. Gibson. Much better options for much less cap. Go get one Chia!

  • Randaman

    I want this guy, no but I want this guy, but what about that other guy with better numbers.

    It seems that the only thing/person that will be good enough for everyone is Carey Price at 4 per on a 4 yr term.

    There, HAPPY?

    Does this next season really matter after all?

    No play-offs anyway.

    Let Peter do his job. We will be fine.

  • gus1000

    The other thing we are forgetting is that with a proper coach and gm in place, maybe they won’t call out the goalie like in seasons past. Dallas was vocal at the beginning of last season.

    Craig crushed DD, to go along with no defense and a change in pad regulations two weeks before the season, his game suffered.(Rinne is on record that it made his game a mess as well) Tougher for the taller guys to adjust, but as their current records show, they did manage to adjust. DD was a vezina candidate with teams who believed in him.

    Maybe with a little confidence back in his game, Scrivens, with a capable partner pushing him, may bounce his game back for us.

  • gus1000

    Let’s hope that Sharks need a goalie next season.

    I could see a team like San Jose, a veteran team wanting to get a short term rental like Miller. Canucks would be wise to take any draft pick in order to clear the cap space.

    Exploring a Miller trade and Bieska trade could free enough space to take a run at Franson, which should improve goaltending by having 4 top DMen in Edler/Tanev, Franson/Hammer.

    A guy can dream!

  • Tikkanese

    Thanks Alan—it should surprise no one that the connection between Coach Todd and Player is the key to the Oilers approach about Niemi. Certainly Todd and Peter C. have talked and all of this will unfold. It would be impossible for the Coach to be neutral on this player after so many years together. An vice versa– Niemi can hardly be neutral on Coach Todd.

    This alone will decide this matter unlike issues of $ or term. Personally he will at least be steady.

  • Canadian Hockey Fan

    Remember a few years ago when the Oilers jersey made its way to the ice and The Professor threw it back to into the crowd? I do, it showed his heart his passion and and where his alliance was. I wish the fans had the same passion displayed by a guy who is deemed a bad goalie. Let’s fix the defence and let him flourish for at least the last year of his contract.