The Penguins new goalie coach Mike Buckley confirmed what many that understand Jim Rutherford figured: the veteran GM craves goalie depth and isn't going to go into the 2017-18 season with Matt Murray as starter and 22-year old Tristan Jarry (with 1 NHL game under his belt) as his backup. From the Trib:
"[Jarry]'s definitely ready. It's always best to give him more time, so that's what we're going to do," Buckley said. "We're going to give him another year, possibly in the American League. Maybe he's ready by the time camp comes, and we may have a different path for him. … He could step in and play games if he's needed to."
Buckley said he's been involved with putting together scouting reports on available goaltenders to aid in the acquisition process.
"There's a limited number of guys, so you do your due diligence, learning about their background and studying film on them, make sure they're going to fit within our system of play," Buckley said. "There's a process to it."
Now cue Thursday afternoon rumblings from Elliotte Friedman:
Early predictions are: Chad Johnson to Buffalo, Brian Elliott to Philadelphia, Steve Mason to Winnipeg, Ryan Miller to Anaheim, Antti Niemi to Pittsburgh, Anders Nilsson to Vancouver.
Niemi was just bought out by the Dallas Stars after another underwhelming season, with a dreadful .892 save % in 37 games. Niemi's two year Dallas career was disastrous, so hopefully the soon-to-be 34 year old can re-find some of his early career form if he indeed comes to the Penguins.
After his rookie season, from 2009-10 to 2014-15, in 335 games while on good teams (Chicago and San Jose) Niemi was 24th out of 93 goalies with a .925 5v5 save percentage*. If he can play near that level, he would make an excellent backup, and one likely coming in at a cheap price.
And though seemingly a lifetime ago, Niemi also started all 22 games for the Blackhawks in 2010, putting up a great 16-6 record. With a .910% and 2.63 GAA he wasn't carrying them ala Tim Thomas or Jonathan Quick, but Stanley Cup winning experience is Stanley Cup winning experience.
(*Marc-Andre Fleury, for what it's worth, was .920%, or tied for 47 out of the 93 goalies for 5v5 play from 2009-15, playing 360 games)
So, if this pans out, depending on price, looks like a potentially solid move for the Pens. They get a veteran goalie who's had a history of playing well on good teams. It's not without risks since his form has been bad recently, but at the same time the Stars haven't exactly been the '77 Canadiens or anything either. It's not a signing guaranteed to be a slam dunk, but if he comes in at a million dollars or under, Niemi should add fairly competent depth at what is obviously a very important position to have it.