It has been a roller coaster season for Antti Niemi. He was employed by 3 different teams in a matter of three weeks and the Canadiens were his fourth in just five months. After spending two seasons with the Dallas Stars, Niemi took his skills to Pittsburgh where he was placed on waivers after just three starts.
The Florida Panthers picked the 34-year-old goaltender up off waivers only to put him back on waivers after just 2 starts. After having been put on waivers yet again, many thought that his NHL career was likely near a close, however, Marc Bergevin managed to swoop in and just at the right time, picking up the Finnish goaltender off waivers for the third time. Antti Niemi stayed in Montreal for the rest of the season and did not disappoint the way he did for the Penguins and Panthers.
Niemi posted a 2.46 goals against average and a .929 save percentage in 19 starts for the Canadiens. Antti Niemi is set to become an unrestricted free agent this coming offseason. Based on his recent play for the Montreal Canadiens, it looks like he will get another chance to play in the NHL.
Although he proved to be a reliable backup goalie for the Habs this season, Montreal should not re-sign the veteran backstop and Niemi should not want to re-sign with the Canadiens. There are other teams that could use Niemi more then the Montreal Canadiens need him. The Montreal Canadiens have a strong list of goaltender prospects with Cayden Primeau, Hayden Hawkey, Zach Fucale and Michel McNiven currently in their prospect pool.
Signing Antti Niemi to a contract extension would stall the development of their young goaltenders. Currently this season, Charlie Lindgren, Zach Fucale and Michael McNiven all played in net for the Montreal Canadiens AHL affiliate, the Laval Rocket. The Laval Rocket had a terrible season which is a big reason why all three goalies had to save percentages under .895 and goals against averages higher than 3.25. Regardless of their performances this season, these three goalies are all full of potential and need a chance to play more games in order to develop.
Having Antti Niemi on the Habs roster made Charlie Lindgren spend more time in the AHL instead of the NHL which resulted in Fucale and McNiven getting less time to play. If Antti Niemi was not apart of the Montreal Canadiens organization, then Charlie Lindgren would back up Carey Price in the NHL which would result in Fucale and McNiven splitting AHL games. This would help the development of both players as they would not have to split time with Charlie Lindgren as well as one another.
It is not in the best interest of Antti Niemi to re-sign with the Canadiens for his own personal benefits. There is no telling that he would not be put on waivers or sent down to the AHL to give Charlie Lindgren or another Canadiens goalie prospect a spot in backing up Carey Price. It would be within Antti Niemi’s best interests to sign with a team that he has a better chance to stay with at the NHL level. There is a chance that wherever Niemi does end up, he might play in the AHL for a part of the season, but it is better to move to another team then to stick with the Habs from the Canadiens perspective as it would stall the development of their young goaltenders playing in the AHL.