Evgeni Nabokov has been the man between the pipes for the San Jose Sharks since the 2000-01 season. After the 2010 free agency period Nabokov will not be returning to the NHL but instead to the KHL in Russia. As a result, GM Doug Wilson now has to fill the void left by the goaltender who posted 293 wins and 50 shutouts in 563 games for the Sharks.
Perhaps next in line is prospect goaltender Alex Stalock, who played for the AHL’s Worcester Sharks in 2009-10 in preparation for his NHL career. Corey Schwab, the Sharks’ goaltending development coach, says that Stalock reminds him of the New Jersey Devils’ netminder Martin Brodeur, no small praise indeed. Schwab played in 147 NHL games with New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Vancouver combined, and most notably played alongside Brodeur for numerous seasons with the Devils. He has Stanley Cup Playoffs experience from the time he spent in New Jersey, having been victorious in 2003. Unfortunately, Stalock is probably not yet ready to play at the level expected and/or hoped for, so Sharks fans will have to wait for Schwab’s word.
For the meanwhile, the Sharks have signed Antero Niittymaki to take Nabokov’s place. Niittymaki has the potential to play very well; however, that level of play has not been seen since his silver medal-winning performance in Torino, Italy for the 2006 Finnish Olympic Team. Not coincidentally, that performance came during the the same season in which he played his best for the Philadelphia Flyers. Schwab may have seen that with his coaching, Niittymaki can be the goalie who puts up the performance the Sharks need to finally get over the hump and win the Cup.
With similar performances to the ones he served up to win the silver medal for Team Finland in the 2006 olympics and for the 2005-06 Flyers, Lord Stanley’s Cup could be taking a tour of the Bay Area via parade. Alternatively, Nabokov, while consistently playing well during the regular season, seemingly lacked the intensity needed to be successful in the playoffs. Having a hard-fighting competitor in the goaltending spot could yield an overall rise in the Sharks’ intensity; indeed, the fight for the crease may lead to better goaltending throughout the season and the postseason.
Competing for the top spot with Niittymaki will be Thomas Greiss. In 16 games played, Greiss showed that he can play well enough to give the Sharks the chance to win from the backup spot. He posted 7 wins, 4 losses, and an OT loss, all for San Jose. A 2.69 goals against average along with a save percentage of .912 suggests that he can use some work, but he is in good shape for the upcoming season. The competition for the starting position may also lead to a rise in play from Greiss. Expect him to try and prove that the top spot belongs to him.
Needless to say, it’s shaping up to be a very interesting season in the crease for the in-transition Sharks, one GM Doug Wilson hopes will end in a long-awaited Cup celebration.