TOP-10 UFA COUNTDOWN: #9—ANTTI NIEMI

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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.

TRACK RECORD

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.

FUTURE PERFORMANCE

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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CONTRACT OUTLOOK

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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    • Morgo_82

      I really think we should go with more experience than this. I say a tandem of Reimer and Scrivens will work providing we upgrade the defense, if we don’t it’s not really going to matter who’s in net. With that being said, if we could somehow get Niemi on a reasonable contract, I wouldn’t be overly upset.

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    Niemi has the chance to be either another Roloson, or another Khabibulin….only time will tell, but from where I sit, it looks like Khabby….Pass.

  • cmandev77

    I know this has nothing to do with hockey but if you guys can help a fellow Oiler fan out it would be much appreciated. I am looking to do a documentary on Car Salespeople (kind of behind the scenes) and would like you guys to respond with 1 word what you think of Car Salespeople. Put it at the bottom of your comment on whatever you are typing about Niemi. I for one would prefer Talbot but Niemi isn’t a bad choice.

      • cmandev77

        I do apologize as I was not trying to be annoying. I figure over the years I have posted on these forums with many cheers for my comments and was hoping I had earned some respect with my Oiler Fan Peers. I am trying to do a documentary on Car Salespeople and was just looking at different demographics and people to ask. That is why I thought, why not fellow Oiler fans? Many of whom I have interacted with over the past few years on these forums.

    • The GREAT Walter White

      I prefer bikes and bicycles. But once i tried help my sister make choice between new Korean hatchbacks. Car dealers, oh my Wayne…. Two words – annoying nerds. Always trying to push unnecessary and stale goods. Motorcycle dealers a million times better

      Both Niemi and Talbot is excellent ready-for-playoff dudes

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    Wow that Smith contract is going to be painful, and for several years. I didn’t realize he was that old or signed for that long. Yikes.

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    2 year deal at 4.8 a year. Bring in Talbot.Buy out Sscrivens. Giving Arm is a suicide pact. You cannot afford to hamstring yourself with a 5-6 year term.

  • Kevwan

    No one knows Niemi like McLellan. I wouldn’t be surprised if he says pass.

    I doubt Niemi gets a big payday. If the Wild sign Dubnyk, it’ll be the Sabres and Oilers looking at him. Lot’s of other UFA and affordable trade options so no need for a bidding war.

    • The GREAT Walter White

      Cam Ward is not only declining, but has been an “average” NHL goalie for 4 years in his career (2008-2012), and Niemi is at the cliff stage of his otherwise extremely average career. I’ll pass on both.

  • lucky

    I think the Oilers should pursue John Gibson from the Ducks. Why not add another young star who is going to be a superstar soon enough… Sure he doesn’t have the playoff experience but he does have some already at his young age. He can grow with the other young stars.. give him the starting role and let him flourish.

    • piscera.infada

      Why would the Ducks trade John Gibson? That would be completely illogical. They’ve put years into developing him, he has a very good pedigree, he just needs to take the reigns.

      • Zarny

        Why the Ducks would trade Gibson is Frederik Andersen. 25 y/o and started 54 games this year. If the Ducks think Andersen is their guy and capable of 65 starts a year the Ducks may decide they can move Gibson to beef up their F or D. Gibson is also an RFA after next season and will be due for a raise.

        Of course, they could decide Gibson’s final ELC year is cheap insurance or they may still think Gibson will be the guy. Which would be why they wouldn’t trade him.

        We’ll see. The Ducks’ decision might be determined by what they are offered.

        • piscera.infada

          The Duck’s biggest obstacle is their internal cap. They may find Andersen is too expensive versus Gibson after next season (when both are RFAs). Perhaps they’re both cheap, and can create an awesome, cost-effective tandem. Perhaps Boudreau goes all Boudreau and can’t decide who he likes in net. Who knows? I just don’t see the Ducks trading Gibson for some sweet-heart deal, just because.

          If they do, it certainly won’t be in conference, let alone in division. There will be a ton of suitors, and cost would be prohibitive.

          • Zarny

            No, the Ducks aren’t going to trade Gibson “just because”; no one suggested that. A “sweet-heart” deal certainly wouldn’t be “just because” now would it?

            I don’t think the cost would be “prohibitive” but you would have to evaluate the difference in cost for Gibson vs Talbot vs Lehner etc versus expected performance.

            I expect Ana wants to wait until next year. Lots of pros to keeping Gibson for another year. The thing is the 2015 draft is this year and Edm, Buf and Wpg have the 16th, 21st and 25th overall picks.

            Schneider fetched a 9th overall but had 2 more seasons of being a proven NHL G than Gibson. Bernier had a better pedigree and was traded for a 2nd rnd pick, Scrivens and Frattin.

            Gibson’s value is somewhere between. Does it change much by next year? Maybe if Andersen gets hurt, but maybe not. And if fewer teams have extra 1st rnd picks next year it could be more difficult for Ana to get a 1st rnd pick in return in a poorer draft.

        • Kevwan

          I doubt the Ducks have pencilled in Anderson as there number one for the next 3 years.Gibson will be given time and opportunity to become a top goalie in this league.You would have to give a lot for Anaheimm to give him up.

      • Kevwan

        Because F. Anderson is 25, taking the reigns, and up for contract renewal next year. Gibson will be up for renewal as well. They will both require raises.

        The Ducks would likely want our #16 and more for Gibson though.

  • Morgo_82

    Hey Lowetide,

    You said “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”

    I think you are a little off. The more correct statement is betting on goalies is a bad idea. There are very few sure bets at any age. They take forever to develop (see Tim Thomas or Dwayne Roloson) and they can flame out even when they are young (Jim Carey the net detective, Andrew Raycroft and dozens of others)

    I’d be surprised if Niemi gets a big deal with term this time. He was a middle of the pack netminder at best on a really solid team. Maybe he gets a couple years at decent dollars but not with term. Then again it only takes one GM with stars in his eyes to overpay, just ask Khabibulin when he signed here to to much money and to long term after he was already washed up.

  • Greg

    Huh, I always thought goalies aged pretty gracefully until they closed in on 40, but that’s a pretty steep curve starting around 30.

    Also, niemi and Oduya so far… Said it before but worth saying again, yeesh, slim pickings.

  • A-Mc

    I see Buffalo as being more willing to throw some term at Niemi than the Oilers are, so if it comes down to Oil vs Buf, i think buf wins.

    I’m not a huge fan of Niemi now that he’s getting older but if there is any way he’d decide to come here on a 2 year deal, i’d entertain the notion. With only a 2 year you’ll get a decent goaltender for a couple years and you’re not tied to him well into his retirement years.

    Niemi is a goalie you can get into the playoffs with, but he’s not a guy you want around when the team is striving for more than just “making it in”.

  • aluchko

    NO. I don’t want to lock in another ageing UFA’s for long-term/big $ at the end of their career (e.g. Ference). Most important position on the team. Our defence is weak but we have maturing D like Nurse, Klef, Marincin who just need some time to be better. Bupkiss in G. Brossoit is all we have and he won’t be ready, if ever, for a several years.

    This will likely be a trade – there are a few like Lack/Talbot/Lehner (Sens don’t need 4 in G and just gave Hammond 3 yrs) or even Jones where the starters are entrenched. Several options. Personally, I would go hard after Lack (Nucks committed to Miller to 2017). 27 years and 0.921 SV% over 41 games last season.

    Scrivey was 0.890 and Lack at 0.921. We gave up 276 GA (worst in league). If Scrivey had Lacks SV% (and was our only G), he we would have given up 78 fewer goals which would have moved us up 8 positions in goal differential in league. That is how important this position is! Trade player(s) &/or picks to fill this critical position.

    • yvr_guy

      How much of Scrivey’s save percentage had to do with his ability vs the fact he played behind the Oil’s juggernaut D?

      Vancouver overpaid for Miller because they had to make the playoffs at all costs, Calgary got good value for Hiller because their objectives were different.

      Buffalo or Edmonton don’t need to pay $6M+ for a SV% 0.915 when they can pick up the same thing for free, like Ramo or by offloading a prospect that management has given up on.

      If Buffalo and Edmonton are the only two teams in the market for Niemi, and neither GM has a man-crush like Benning did last year, they could probably do a deal for around $4M which is about 2.5M+ more than you’d have to pay an UFA like Ramo, but at least you have a better idea what you are buying.

      • Kevwan

        I agree with Lowetide “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…….we can expect him to become less than average in quality”

        3 Keys: big payday, no player loss, less than avg. I much prefer not to spend big$ on a sunset career. We have more trade options than others with a relatively large number of picks in deep draft.

        I agree that a better D may have resulted in poorer shot quality so you can’t make a perfect comparison on SV% but it is indicative of the fact that we need a starting G. Scrivey is not that guy – low SV%, soft goals, poor puck handling. It will cost us but the position is tooooooo important to not.

      • Kevwan

        I agree with Lowetide “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…….we can expect him to become less than average in quality”

        3 Keys: big payday, no player loss, less than avg. I much prefer not to spend big$ on a sunset career. We have more trade options than others with a relatively large number of picks in deep draft.

        I agree that a better D may have resulted in poorer shot quality so you can’t make a perfect comparison on SV% but it is indicative of the fact that we need a starting G. Scrivey is not that guy – low SV%, soft goals, poor puck handling. It will cost us but the position is tooooooo important to not.

  • aluchko

    I’m not sure the goalie ageing curve properly calibrated its data. It shows a regression every year, and considering the source you’d expect that regression and shape even if the goalies didn’t decline at all with age.

    A young goalie will get a lot of shots if they struggle, but an old goalie is probably done if he has a bad year.

    That means the goalies at 29 are being measured against their last year which includes a lot of bad seasons (ie Dubnyk).

    But a goalie at 35 is being measured against his 34 year old season, the fact that he’s still playing at 35 means that the 34 year old season was probably a good one. I don’t think Dubnyk would have gotten another shot if he fell apart at 34.

    I’m not sure how big this affect is but it clearly exists since a goalie shouldn’t be getting worse at every year of his career. What this means is that the graph overstates the risk associated with signing Niemi, his risk of decline might not be much worse than a 28 year old goalie coming off a strong season

  • cmandev77

    Personally I think we need a bridge goaltender til Broissalt is developed on the farm and potentially he could backup next year unless Scrivns gets hit by lightning and improves . Along with this please hire a goalie coach who can develop him and our other yet to be drafted goalie prospects. This kid is as good as any of the other futures we are talking about, Niemi for 2 years on an overpay but nothing longer

  • cmandev77

    Frankly one of the best goaltending performances of last year was Brossoit. Fuhr was 19 and Moog was 21 when they made it to the NHL. Brossoit is 22 and is entering the wheelhouse of his career. Why waste cap space or picks on older goalies that don’t fit the age cluster. I don’t buy the older is better argument when it comes to goalies.

  • cmandev77

    We should be fixing the defence issue before we even worry about goaltending. There are no goalies out there, Carey Price included, who would be able to play well with the defence we have had the past few years. I think Scrivens and Talbot would make a decent combination but if we can get Niemi cheap for this year then why not? We are still a few years off from making a splash in the playoffs and until we fix the defence corp we won’t need an all-star goalie.

  • Zarny

    Niemi is this year’s Jonas Hiller. A similar deal ~ $4.5M is what I expect. Maybe $5M with a bidding war.

    IMO Niemi is the (type of) goalie the Oilers should have signed 4-5 years ago to start the rebuild.

    With Niemi’s expected decline I’d prefer a younger option like Gibson, Talbot, Jones or Lehner; but a 2-3 year deal ~ $4.5M for Niemi would work if a trade is too costly.

    IMO there has never been more good goaltending than now. With the expected small increase in the cap I don’t see anyone breaking the bank on Niemi.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    We barely have been eliminated from playing playoff hockey and now the CFL is starting up already…….I guess it’s time to raise the Grey cup banner already…..where does the time go?

    WW

  • The GREAT Walter White

    I would keep exploring the trade options for younger talent at least until draft days end. No goalie available is a sure-shot and if the goalie we end up with proves to be the one during his time here we would have an upper hand at extending his contract.

    Niemi would be fine for a couple years here and I doubt that we would have to overpay.

  • Tikkanese

    Niemi #9 on your list, really?

    He’s easily the #1 for the Oilers list. He’s the only sure bet starting UFA goalie available. Everyone else is a 1a at best and really are all 1b at best in reality. Some might become solid 60+ GP goalies but nobody other than Niemi is that goalie today. Him declining is not a sure bet either. Some goalies get better with age, Tim Thomas, Hasek, Roloson etc.

    All the UFA D available, sure they are better than most of the current Oilers’ D, but really as far as top pairing D go, which is what the Oilers truly need, are either never was(Franson) or are probably no longer(Beachemin, Green, Martin). Given Petry’s new contract and what guys like Orpik made last year; UFA D this year will be severley overpaid and none are going to be the top-pairing answer that the Oilers really need.

    Sign their goalie and trade for D. That’s what the Oiler’s should be doing. Niemi at #9 is very wrong.

    But, but, Tikkanese, what about Talbot?!?! For every “roll the dice” Bishop, there are a lot of failed Lindback, Scrivens, Fasth, Halak twice(habs and blues before a win with NYI) etc. who were all arguably as least as sure bets as Talbot currently is. When you roll the dice and win it is fantastic, but the odds are terrible with backup goalies. I’d rather sign the sure thing and maybe in a couple years Broissoit will take over.

    • gus1000

      I would remove Halak from your discussion. The guy’s numbers are solid for his entire NHL career except for 12-13 when he was fighting injuries. Overall he is better than .920 in the pros over 8 seasons.

      I am also in the ‘anti-Niemi’ group. He is not the guy to carry the work load for us. Enroth proved he can carry a horrible team to respectability, I would target him for next season as a potential filler. If Brossoit has the solid AHL season this year that we are hoping for, he will be up the following season.

      Ramo proved to me in the playoffs he is also a gamer. Gibson via trade over Talbot via trade would be my best case solution, unless Ottawa lets Anderson go.

      • Tikkanese

        Enroth? What has he proven? Last year he was 4-17 on the Sabres, that is respectable?!?

        43-61 2.88GAA .909GAA career is respectable? Sounds more like the same garbage the Oilers have had in net for about 9 years now.

        He is not currently a legit starting goalie like Niemi. Enroth is currently a 1b, you could maybe argue a 1a to a drunk guy but still not a legit starter by any stretch. Might he be? Maybe. The Oilers do not need more maybes in net.

        Halak had solid numbers yes, but he never took the starting goalie job “by the throat” until he was on the Islanders. The Oilers need that. Like I said, for every Bishop, there are maybe 8 backup “roll the dice” guys that fail at taking the starting job. Not worth the odds.

        • gus1000

          For arguments sake, Enroth had nearly 34 shots per game on a team trying to tank, and was down to 2.38 GAA with Dallas, still not a great team defensively. Scrivens faced an average of 27 shots per game with our team that was trying and he had 3.16 GAA.

          Many of the games Enroth played were 1 goal losses. He didn’t let in the soft ones very often and kept them in almost every game they played. Unfortunately you can’t only look at the wins and losses on that horrible team, the same as ours, but he is clearly an overall upgrade for us and only 26.

          I will take that over Niemi’s 2.59 GAA .914 for $5 mil per season. Our defense needs to be fixed before we can utilize a ‘true’ 1a goaltender.

          • Tikkanese

            I agree with you that they need to fix the D first.

            I gave you last year’s numbers, his career numbers and none show he’s a starter like Niemi. Niemi has been a legit starter for many years now. Enroth has basically bad to very bad numbers on a brutal team and he’s been a low GP backup for most of that. Maybe he shines behind a real team, maybe he doesn’t. He is a maybe, period. Niemi is a starter, period. Maybe on the decline, maybe not, but a starter none the less.

      • Johnnydapunk

        Enroth wouod be like Fasth again, he hasn’t played more than 30 games a season and wouod get eaten alive with the Oil suspect defence.

        If the Oil were to go budget ish, I would go for Rämö as he actually wasn’t too bad at all this season, he played a lot and I don’t remember too many shockers getting past him.

        As much as my Finnish roots would like it, I’m also not a huge fan of Niemi unless he came cheap. Again all of this is dependant on what the Oil do with their defence, if they improve that, then there is flexibility in net, if they don’t then they need someone who logs heavy minutes and takes a lot of shots as he will have to be the one that saves them (literally and I guess figuratively)

  • mithaman

    I’d be fine signing Niemi to a 2-3 year deal at $4M or less. It will still be a big upgrade over what we have now and we don’t lose any assets.

    If he wants more we should look elsewhere.