Montreal’s claiming of goaltender Antti Niemi off waivers from Florida on Tuesday hasn’t exactly gone over well. Although he’s off to a dreadful start to the year, there’s not a whole lot to really worry about here.
Let’s get the ugliness out of the way first. Niemi has gone 0-4 in five appearances this season with a GAA of 6.74 and a .822 SV%. There’s no other way of saying it – he has been terrible this season.
So why isn’t this a big deal? It’s simple – there’s a good chance he doesn’t make a single start for the Habs. Although Carey Price (knee) isn’t ready yet and has shut himself down for a couple of days, it still sounds like he won’t be out for too long. As soon as he’s back, that should be the end of Niemi. If Al Montoya (concussion) gets back before Price, that should be the end of Niemi as well.
In other words, he’s an insurance policy with a term of probably two or three weeks. There’s no need to trade an asset to get a slightly better depth goalie if the plan is to only have them around for a few weeks. That’s what brought him to Florida originally (and what got him waived as he wasn’t needed when Roberto Luongo returned).
This also allows Zach Fucale to go back to the AHL and get playing time. It’s never ideal to have a young goalie sitting on the bench for long periods of time and facing NHL shooters in practice isn’t beneficial enough to overlook that fact. If it makes you feel any better at the move, think of the move as “Habs claim the ability to send Fucale back where he belongs”.
If Price and Montoya are both out longer-term, then Niemi’s addition gets a bit concerning if GM Marc Bergevin thinks that the 34-year-old is part of a solution. I’d hope at that point that he’d set his sights higher for someone who can take some starts from Charlie Lindgren. But the truth is, we’re not at that point yet and won’t be for a little while.
Antti Niemi isn’t going to be part of the plans for very long. He’s here to warm the bench until somebody else is healthy and then he’ll be gone. That’s just not worth worrying about, no matter how bad his first few appearances have been this season.