Friday, March 4, 2011

Get 'Em While They're Hot

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.

6 comments:

David Johnson said...

Regular Season Stats:

Rinne: .919 on 4413 shots
Lehtonen: .913 on 8244 shots
Niemi: .915 on 2268 shots

Lehtonen has pretty much established himself as a .911 to .916 goalie as that is where he has been the past 5 seasons. Good, but nothing too special.

I really like Rinne and think he might he could establish himself as one of the top goalies in the NHL.

As for Niemi, I think it is probably too early to say that Niemi can't live up to his contract. His overall numbers have been decent enough if a little inconsistent (which is where my concerns would lie). I probably would have gone with a shorter term contract (2 years) but I don't think I would dismiss the contract as a bad one yet, just a risky one.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

I think there's quite a bit more separation between the three than the overall save percentages suggest.

Niemi rode a really high PK SV% in Chicago and is playing for a disciplined Sharks team this year. Lehtonen played on a likely shot quality outlier in Atlanta, and has usually faced a higher-than-average number of shots against while on the PK.

Take EV SV% only (including playoffs), and it doesn't look nearly as close:

Rinne: .927 on 3778 SA
Lehtonen: .926 on 6295 SA
Niemi: .920 on 2321 SA

I think it's unlikely that Niemi is an above-average goalie, so it doesn't make sense to give him an above-average cap hit. Maybe it ends up working out for the Sharks, maybe not, but I still maintain it was a bad move.

nightflyblog said...

Even if you knew nothing at all about ev sv% or the like, you could scratch your head at this... because the Sharks just got rid of a (probably) better goalie in Nabokov in order to scarf up Niemi at about half the cost. Why would they turn right around after one hot streak and undo that move by upping his salary for the next four seasons?

Agent Orange said...

What are your thoughts about Halak? I thought at the time the Blues overpaid and really made a reach for him. The is one of the biggest "buy high" deals in my recent memory. Is it too early to tell anything from his STL number (only about 1300 shots).

In the playoffs he was out of this world and unsustainable but he was very good in the regular season in Mont (0.919 sv%) as opposed to his performance in STL (0.908 sv%).

Team effects?
Bad luck?
Small sample?

If they continue on their current paces people will scream how the Habs knew what they were doing with the Price (0.924) Halak (0.908) situation. But how much of that is the individual?

Agent Orange said...

nightflyblog said...

"Even if you knew nothing at all about ev sv% or the like, you could scratch your head at this... because the Sharks just got rid of a (probably) better goalie in Nabokov in order to scarf up Niemi at about half the cost. Why would they turn right around after one hot streak and undo that move by upping his salary for the next four seasons?"

Its worth mentioning that Nabby wanted $5 or 6$ million a season at the end of last year. Niemi is still a much cheaper option and I don't see Nabby at his age being significantly better than Niemi. If Nabby had only wanted $500k (what he signed with Det for) I'm sure the sharks would have kept him.

Host Pay Per Head said...

I think it was a hell of a season even though some fanatics think otherwise, in my opinion it was a very good season!