San Jose Sharks Sign Goaltender Antti Niemi to $2 Million Deal

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If you can't beat him, sign him.

The San Jose Sharks announced the signing of goaltender Antti Niemi on Thursday. Niemi formerly served as the netminder for the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, the same team that swept the Sharks in the Western Conference Finals back in May.

Niemi replaces longtime Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who spent the last 10 years as the team's primary backstop. Nabokov's contract expired at the end of the 2010 season, and the Sharks did not re-sign due to salary cap restrictions. It was reported that Nabokov signed with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL on July 7.

The signing of Niemi marks the second goaltender acquisition by the Sharks during the offseason. He joins fellow Finnish goaltender Antero Niittymaki, who signed a two-year, $4 million deal in early July.

"We liked our goaltending as of yesterday. We like it even more today," general manager Doug Wilson said Thursday, according to ESPN.com. "When a player like this comes available and he wants to come to your team, especially on a contract that we feel fits our salary structure and you don't have to give up anything to get him, you just have to make it happen."

Niemi went through a difficult offseason battle with the Blackhawks, demanding a higher contract for his second full year in the NHL. The 27-year-old netminder was unbelievable in the postseason for the Stanley Cup champs, playing all but one period throughout the playoffs. He posted a .910 save percentage and a 2.63 goals-against average in the victorious run.

The Blackhawks didn’t bite, however. Like many teams in the NHL, Chicago was struggling with cap space and didn't have the funds to give Niemi the $2.75 million settled upon during arbitration. The Blackhawks signed veteran goaltender Marty Turco from the Dallas Stars for $1.3 million instead.

Other offers came in for Niemi after he became an unrestricted free agent, but the Finland-native was most excited when the offer came in from San Jose.

"I thought for me it would be really important to go to a really good team and also a really good organization," Niemi said. "They really wanted me there, too. It wasn't too hard a decision after all."

He's also looking forward to matching up against his former team in the upcoming season, claiming they will be the "most exciting games of the regular season." The Sharks and the Blackhawks meet up on four occasions, playing in San Jose on Nov. 24 and Dec. 11 and in Chicago on Dec. 30 and March 14.

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