Niittymaki is a pain in the ass to spell. Seriously, two "i"s, two "t"s and I'm still spelling it poorly since I'm ignoring the two dots that are supposed to go over the "a." Oh well, I'm sure I'll get used to it.
Barring a trade, Niittymaki will likely be the primary goalie for the Sharks this upcoming season. I expect we'll see him play around 40-50 games, with a good look given to the Sharks' younger goalies with an eye towards one of them establishing himself as the starter for next year or the year following. This is pretty much exactly what I wanted the Sharks to do at the end of the season, so I'm a happy guy right now.
None of the available goaltenders have better numbers than Nabokov, so any way the Sharks went it was going to look like a step down on the surface. I like Nabokov a lot, and he was a really good goalie. He's better than Niittymaki in pretty much any statistical way you look at it. So are there any reasons to be optimistic? Yeah, a couple.
1) Niittymaki's cheaper, which is what the Sharks need. The era of the high-priced goalie is over, and the Sharks are perceptive enough to see this even if other teams may want to deny it. When I've been talking to people about the Sharks' situation it's basically come down to "I'd like to keep Nabokov if he were cheaper or if we didn't have other players to sign, but since we have to make decisions with dollars Nabokov is the right guy to let go." I'm already pleased with the re-signings of Marleau and Pavelski and Nichol (not so happy about the D guys, but we'll see what happens there) and if Niittymaki makes it easier to keep the team intact salary-wise then he's a good choice.
2) Niittymaki is good. I feel like he's one of those guys who's been a victim of some unfortunate breaks in his career, but who definitely has it in him to be a starting goalie. It's clearly better than going into the season with two unproven goaltenders.
3) You know one thing that sets Niittymaki apart from Nabokov? Niittymaki has been on teams that have won stuff.
In 2000 he won the Jarmo Wasama memorial trophy for Rookie of the Year, and led TPS to their second straight SM-liiga championship.
The Phantoms won the Calder Cup in 2005 after sweeping the Chicago Wolves. Niittymäki received the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy for being the MVP in the Calder Cup Playoffs. He had a 1.75 GAA and 15 wins, three of which were shutouts.
Niittymäki was named to the Team Finland for the 2006 Winter Olympics after Kari Lehtonen and Miikka Kiprusoff had to pull out due to injuries. Despite being a relative unknown with little top-level experience, he put in a stellar performance and was named the MVP of the tournament after posting 3 shutouts in 6 games, leading Finland to the silver medal.
I'm not usually one to put much stock in signing guys just because they "know how to win" but if the Sharks are going for a cheaper goalie they could certainly do worse than a guy with several championship-level performances in his history.
Welcome aboard, Antero!
(Fun note: Before I even heard he was signed by San Jose, there was an epic Wiki-battle between somebody in North Carolina and somebody in New York to be the first to update Antero Niittymaki's wikipedia and proclaim him a member of the San Jose Sharks. I love these people, and I wish they would identify themselves so we can all applaud them for having no lives, just like the rest of us).