The San Jose Sharks haven’t been a thorn in the side of the Flyers — they’ve been a hatchet.
Since the lockout of 2004-05, Philadelphia has gone 0-4-2 against the Western Conference power, being outscored 30-16 during that span. And that’s just lately. The Flyers haven’t cracked the Sharks in 11 previous meetings, dating back to Dec. 21, 2000, which marks their last win over the Bay Area teals.
However, this season, the two squads have been on different paths. And come 7 PM tonight at the Wells Fargo Center, it could be the Flyers that go Shark hunting and bring that near decade-long winless drought to an end.
After days of speculation that former Flyers’ goalie Antero Niittymaki was headed to Tampa Bay, on Friday the Lightning made it official, they have officially signed Niittymaki. The deal is for one year, just under $600,000.
“We fully recognized the need to add an experienced back-up goaltender this summer and today we feel we’ve accomplished that goal,” said Tampa General Manager Brian Lawton.
Niittymaki had not signed a contract with a Russian team, unlike what was reported.
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With former Flyers’ backup goalie Antero Niittymaki ready to pull the trigger on going the KHL in Russia, Tampa Bay writer Jon Jordon is reporting the Lightning swooped in and have made him an offer.
“Lightning GM Brian Lawton has declined to say who the team is after, but said an offer has been extended and a decision is expected soon.,” wrote Damian Cristodero of the St. Pete Times.
Niitty did not sign a contract with any Russian team.
It didn’t seem as if any NHL team wanted Niittymaki with his extensive hip problems. But with Tampa goalie Mike Smith rumored to still be recovering from a concussion suffered late last season, the Lightning could be looking for a short-term band aid to start the season.
The move would also benefit the Lightning because of Antero’s potency against Tampa division rival Atlanta. Since he arrived with the Flyers in 2003, Niitty is 13-0 against the Thrashers, with a 1.78 GAA.
According to a Finnish source, former Flyers’ back up goaltender Antero Niittymaki could be heading to Atlant of the KHL, replacing current Flyers’ goalie Ray Emery, who signed a one-year deal with the Flyers after playing in Atlant for the 2008-09 season.
Niitty played back up goalie for the Flyers for three years before severe and chronic hip problems limited his playing time. Those same hip problems earned him the label of damaged goods, making it unlikely he would return to the Flyers, or any team in the NHL.
Niitty tallied a record of 62-61, in his three years with the Flyers. He had a 3.01 goals against with a .901% save percentage.
The Flyers made a splash in the international free agency market, by picking up 6-foot-2, 200 lbs. goaltender, Johan Backlund on a one-year contract.
“Johan is a player who we have watched over the last couple of years and we really like,” said Flyers’ General Manager Paul Holmgren . “He will bring depth to our organization at the goaltender position.”
The 27-year old posted a 2.56 goals against average in 49 games with Timra of the Swedish Elite League. Backlund was a sought after by multiple teams, but signed with the Flyers. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Backlund is low risk, high reward (as are most goalies). He has potential to be a decent NHL backup, but needs to prove himself under fire. He possesses a standup style with good reflexes and uses his size well. He is well-rounded, not excelling anywhere specific but also not lacking.
The Flyers’ system is terribly barren at goaltender. With next to no prospects even close to playing major minutes at the AHL level, let alone NHL, something needed to be done. Backlund will likely become the backup to any starter for the Flyers, considering both Marty Biron and Antero Niittymaki will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2008-09 season. The Flyers will likely let Niittymaki walk due to his bad hip and try to re-sign Biron. However, sources say that Biron’s agent is riding up the price of the backstop, which puts the future of Biron in Philly in question.