Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton.
It was a great story. Two goaltenders who weren’t supposed to be there, standing across the ice from other another in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. They were standing where so many other goalies would have loved to be. They had outlasted Brodeur and Luongo and Fleury and Miller and every other goaltender who was more well-known and had a greater history of success.
That was in the heat of June. Now, in the cold of December we have a completely different story.
It seemed a bit shocking when the Chicago Blackhawks walked away from Niemi in the offseason. Yes, they had salary cap issues, but Niemi had just won them the Stanley Cup. Nonetheless, the Hawks signed Marty Turco and Niemi was left without a hockey team. He ended up signing with the San Jose Sharks, but he has definitely struggled in California this year. In 11 games with the Sharks, Niemi has a 4-6-1 record, a 3.46GAA and a .886 save percentage.
Leighton had back surgery in October and he has not yet played an NHL game this season. In a rehab stint in the AHL, he’s lost twice and some are wondering if he will find his way back to the NHL, thanks to the Flyers’ cap situation and the play of Sergei Bobrovsky.
Niemi and Leighton’s postseason success was supposed to change the way NHL teams looked at goaltending, and in many ways it did. Having a big money goaltender with a history of success signed to a large contract is no longer necessary to win a championship. If you look around the league you’ll see that goaltenders like Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth, Sergei Bobrovsky and Jimmy Howard are having great success this year. None of those goaltenders are what you would call big names and they all make less than $2 million a season.
So in this age of cheap goaltending filled with star rookies and unknowns riding hot streaks, is it already over for Niemi and Leighton? No one expected them to be there in the first place, so is it really a surprise that they likely won’t be there again?
Perhaps ironically, it looks like the two goaltenders that defined “the no name goalie riding a hot streak” have already been replaced by other goaltenders who are just like they were. Now Leighton and Niemi are the ones with histories of success, and it’s possible that they could be replaced by two other “unknowns” in this year’s final.
Their success may have made them irrelevant.