After deciding to let longtime goaltender Evgeni Nabokov find a new team, the Sharks found their own free agent netminder on the first day of the free agency period. Antero Niittymaki signed a two-year contract that will reportedly pay him $2 million per season, or about $3 million less than Nabokov earned last season.
“This is the goaltender that we wanted,” says Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson, adding, “we’ve done a lot of research in the last couple of weeks and once we made the decision to go in a different direction than Nabby we were looking for a certain style of goalie, a certain type of goalie.”
The 30-year-old from Finland played last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning and for five seasons before that with the Philadelphia Flyers. “If you get a chance to play on one of the best teams in the league you can't really pass that up,” says Niittymaki.
The negotiations to bring the former Lightning goalie to San Jose were like lightning. “It happened pretty quick,” says Niittymaki adding, “it was the first phone call that I got and it was pretty quick.”
“The signing of Antero represents obviously a changing in guard here, we knew that was coming when we let Nabby know we were going to go another direction,” says Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan, adding, “now we’re going from a dominant goaltender to more of a tandem look.”
The second part of the tandem will be determined in Training Camp. “Competition is a good thing, Antero is coming in here and we’ve got high expectations for him but (last season’s backup) Thomas Greiss isn’t just going to go away and neither is (minor league prospect) Alex Stalock and that’s a good thing for all of us,” says Wilson.
Niittymaki is similar in style to former Sharks goaltenders also from Finland, Miikka Kiprusoff and Vesa Toskala. “He’s proven in the past that he’s a world class goaltender,” says McLellan, adding, “he’s won championships he’s been an MVP at the Olympic level, played very well at Tampa Bay last year so we know he’s excited and we’re very excited with the marriage that begins.”
Laurence Scott files this report from Sharks Ice in San Jose.