I am an avid hockey fight fan. In fact, I have been registered to one of the biggest hockey fight forums on the internet today, hockey-fights.com.
On this site, someone foolishly suggested that the Capitals sign Antti Niemi, the now unrestricted free agent who won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks. I am entirely against this decision for a multitude of reasons.
For starters, Niemi will be 27 years old before the season begins. Varlamov and Neuvirth are both 22. Both of the Capitals current goaltenders offer five more years of NHL play, assuming all three retire at the same time. Plus, Varlamov and Niemi can be talked about in the same conversation in terms of skill, despite the age difference. Which leads one to believe that Varlamov will become a much better goaltender than our Finnish friend.
Niemi made his NHL debut last season, posting a 1-1-1 record in 3 starts, along with a 3.40 GAA and .864 save percent. He backed those numbers up with a 26-7-4 record in 39 games played this year, posting a 2.25 GAA and .912 save percent. The number to focus on is 70.2%, which represents the percentage of total points that Niemi was good for this year, 59, out of a possible 84.
Varlamov too made his NHL debut last season, posting a 4-0-1 record in 6 games played, to go with a 2.37 GAA and a .918 save percent. This season, he finished with a 15-4-6 record in 26 games played, along with a 2.55 GAA and .909 save percent. The magic number for Varlamov is 70.3% - Varlamov achieved a total of 45 out of a possible 64 points.
Also of note: Niemi posted .427 saves per minute played this season, compared to Varlamov, who posted .470 saves per minute. Considering both the Capitals and Blackhawks have a very respectable puck possession offense, finishing the season #1 and #3, respectively, this is a very telling stat. The Blackhawks as a team finished tops in the league with only 25.1 shots allowed per game; the Capitals were 18th, allowing 30.9 per game.
Surprisingly, Niemi's playoff numbers are not as good as Varlamov's, except for the obvious, win percent. Niemi is 16-6 in 22 playoff games; Varlamov is a mere 10-9 in 19 games, spread over the last two seasons. However, Niemi has a 2.63 GAA and .910 save percent, with two shutouts, while Varlamov has a 2.49 GAA and .915 save percent, also with two shutouts. Niemi has made .488 saves per minute in his playoff career, while Varlamov has made .490 per minute. Which leads me to believe that Varlamov, despite having an obviously worse defense (the 'Hawks had the best defense squad I can remember since the Blake/Bourque/Foote led Avalanche), has played better, if not more consistently.
Niemi is a good but not great goalie who played behind a phenomenal team and rode them to the Cup. Not to say he did not contribute his fair share - he was awesome against San Jose. However, he is still unproven in the NHL, having only played a combined 64 regular season and playoff games. If the Capitals were to bring in a goalie to make a run for the Cup, despite not having all the rest of the tools, they would seek a proven winner - not a kid with half a season of experience.
Varlamov has shone on the international stage, winning silver at the 2010 World Championships, and silver at both the 2006 and 2007 World Junior Championships, starting in both 2007 and 2010. Varlamov has also won two consecutive Calder Cups, as a member of the Hershey Bears. He has yet to have a chance to dominate in the NHL, but has a good chance to do so, entering the season as the starter, albeit in split fashion. One would figure that Varlamov will start around 55-60 games, with Neuvirth getting the rest.
Furthermore, the Capitals have around $5.3 million in cap room, not counting the possible addition of Marcus Johansson, who will count for $900k should he play. Neuvirtg accounts for $821k, which is basically a wash with the Swedish import. Niemi figures to make around $3 million this upcoming season, if he can find a suitor. That would leave the Capitals with roughly $1.4 million to work with. One would figure that with the addition of DJ King, injuries will be less frequent, however with a team full of small forwards, they are inevitable. Plus, the team is not ready for a deep playoff run as is, so a deadline deal is possible, if not probable. If Niemi was signed, the Capitals would not have the flexibility they desire .
It would be fiscally irresponsible for the Capitals to pursue Niemi. He would not improve the team's current goaltending situation, and would stunt the development of the current crew. Plus, the Capitals have made a commitment to stick to the plan, which involves developing talent, and not making a shot at the Cup. Since Varlamov has much more upside than Niemi, it would be only for a "win the Cup now" chance that the Caps would even look at Niemi.
What do you think?