Through December 31, Antti Niemi had a career save percentage of .907 on his first 2,197 shots faced in the NHL, including his playoff run with Chicago. That's not enough to even cover league average, which has been north of .910 for the last couple of seasons. Given that Niemi is an undrafted free agent who has never stood out from the pack in any professional league has played in, that doesn't seem to indicate much of a future as an NHL starting goalie.
In the 2011 calendar year, though, things have turned around for the Finnish netminder. Niemi has stopped 670 of 716 shots for a .936 save percentage since January 1. The result is that the Sharks recently signed him to a 4 year, $15.2 million deal.
Chicago wasn't willing to pay Niemi $2.75 million for just one season, yet San Jose apparently thinks he's worth a million bucks more than that for each of the next four years. This is also after the Sharks signed Niemi for $2 million during the offseason, and after Niemi struggled early on. Two bad months + two good months = roughly two times the paycheque? Both the term and the money make that a pretty baffling move from San Jose's perspective. Perhaps they're so desperate to finally win something in the playoffs that they're willing to overpay anybody with a Stanley Cup ring on his finger.
To quote Gabe Desjardins in a comment written as a follow-up to his terrific post on a goalie's first 15 NHL games:
"The main point here is that you need 2000+ shots to make a decision about a goalie…And that to get a 2000-shot tryout, you’re best off hitting a performance high in your first few hundred shots…"
Niemi did it backwards. He got his 2000 shot tryout, and he couldn't even manage to be league average despite playing on strong teams the entire time. Then he hit a performance high in his next 700 shots and cashed in. The result is that he'll have a higher cap hit next season than either Pekka Rinne or Kari Lehtonen.
Rinne, Lehtonen and Niemi are all Finnish starting goalies, but I'd still maintain that one of them is not like the others. Whether it was a result of falling in love with his recent form or overrating his playoff team success, San Jose appears to have made a pretty bad bet with the Niemi contract.