Where to start? Niemi, I pulled for you all off-season. I wanted the Flyers to sign you after your arbitration decision. I thought you would only blossom from your impressive rookie year. I argued that you were not reliant on the great D in front of you in Chicago. But what have you shown me this year in San Jose? Nothing. You have been in 9 games, but only have 3 wins. You have a .877 save percentage and a 3.93 goals against. Sophomore slump? Maybe, but I expect bigger things in your future if you want to keep me on your side. There is time to turn things around, I am just disappointed you made me look like a fool.
If there needed to be proof that this blog was influential, the need has been satisfied. Clearly Niemi read my post. Despite his record since (14-10-2) he has kept a floundering Sharks team in playoff contention. Four of those wins have been shutouts. That is good for 7th in the league.
With the Sharks big name forwards not playing up to their potential it has fallen on goaltending and rookie of the year candidate Logan Couture to play well.
I think it is fair enough to say that the San Jose Sharks D-core is not the reason for Niemi's success. This was the argument last year--that Chicago's D was the only reason Niemi could win. The Sharks D is composed of Dan Boyle, Marc Vlasic, Douglas Murray, Niclas Wallin, Kent Huskins, Jason Demers, and Derek Joslin. The best defenseman of the bunch, Boyle, is a veteran offensive defenseman who is talented in his own right, but not a Duncan Keith by any measure. Vlasic and Murray are the workhorses in the D zone and although they are good, they are not good enough to shelter a goalie.
In the 27 games he has played since Dec. 1st, only 8 times has he had a save percentage lower than .900. And two of those times were just short at .897 and .892. Since the New Year he has been even more improved going 9-6-1, including two shutouts and a 42 save win. Overall this year, he is on pace for 28 wins (6 shutouts), .916 save percentage, and a 2.56 goals against.
By no means are these Vezina numbers. However on a Sharks team that has been struggling all year Niemi's turn around in net gives them the confidence that signing him in the summer was a good move for the franchise. His recent play also gives them a boost at a time in the year where playoff births are earned.
The Sharks have two weeks to decide whether they want to push to be buyers at the deadline or not. Having a goalie start to get hot is a good reason to become a buyer. The Sharks are rumored to be looking for a top pair defenseman. Devin Setoguchi, RW, looks to be the trade bait dangling out there to reel in that blue line anchor. Setoguchi is under performing this year with only 20 points in 48 games. However, his potential, 1.8 cap hit and his RFA status at year's end make him an attractive piece to bottom dwellers and contenders.
The Sharks have only half a million in cap space according to capgeek.com and would have to do pretty much a dollar for dollar deal, or clear room through waivers or another trade.
I think that the Sharks may send Setoguchi to an Eastern Conference team for two D or a D and a forward. I could easily see Boston acquiring Setoguchi for Mark Stuart and a mid draft choice. The Bruins could use a top 6 forward with Savard out for the year, and Setoguchi may be that forward if the big name players don't find their way to Bean town this trade season. But thats just one option.
Many teams are evaluating their personnel, deciding whether they have what it takes to put together a playoff run. The Sharks are no different. They are on the outside looking in. But with Niemi starting to play with the confidence and ability I knew he had (and disappointed he was not displaying) the Sharks may make that push.
So keep it up, Niemi....and clearly keep reading zelePUCKin.