Former Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi is now on his third team in as many seasons after the Florida Panthers announced they claimed him off of waivers on Tuesday. His career with the Pittsburgh Penguins ended after only three games, a disastrous stretch in which he gave up 16 goals in three games.
Now, Niemi has one last chance to revitalize his career. That chance comes only five seasons after he was a Vezina Trophy finalist, and just over two years after the Sharks traded his free agent rights to the Dallas Stars. Since leaving San Jose, he has rapidly declined.
Niemi's first season in Dallas wasn't as bad as his then-career-low .905 save percentage might indicate. He was just as good stopping pucks at even strength as he was in his final season in San Jose, but was victimized for a career-high 11 shorthanded goals and was slightly worse on the penalty kill.
The same cannot be said about last season.
Of the 60 goaltenders that played at least 500 five-on-five minutes last season, Niemi ranked 55th in save percentage in those situations, according to Corsica Hockey. Of the 51 goalies that played 100 minutes on the penalty kill, Niemi's save percentage was 43rd. Add it all together, and you get Niemi's career-worst .892 save percentage in all situations.
That was bad enough to get him bought out in Dallas, and Pittsburgh signed him on a cheap flyer this offseason to see if the Finnish goaltender had anything left in the tank. After three games, they decided he didn't, and waived him on Monday.
His post-Sharks career is all the more surprising given how good he was in teal. Niemi's had the unenviable task of being an unconventional goalie filling the crease of the franchise's most-popular shot-stopper, Evgeni Nabokov. Looks can be deceiving, and Niemi's still San Jose's all-time leader in save percentage.
That fact makes Niemi's post-Sharks struggles especially jarring, even moreso considering San Jose's relative success at the position since parting ways. The Sharks believe his successor, Martin Jones, to be their franchise goaltender, and signed him to a six-year contract extension over the summer. No matter what you think of Jones' contract, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson looks especially shrewd for moving on from Niemi when he did.
Niemi's now 34, and age has undoubtedly played a role in how quickly his skills in net have diminished. But that makes his fall no less staggering.