Anyone else a little stunned by the fact that Antero Niittymaki nearly had a job in Russia and now has the backup goaltending job in Tampa, while Marty Biron rearranges his T-shirt collection and waits by the phone?
The Tampa Bay Lightning signed Niittymaki today, and GM Brian Lawton is standing in front of the 'Mission Accomplished' banner:
"We fully recognized the need to add an experienced back-up goaltender this summer and today we feel we've accomplished that goal," Lawton said. "Not only is Antero already an established number two in the NHL who can steal games, but we feel he is very capable of working with Mike Smith to give us a formidable 1-2 punch in goal."
The problem was when he'd play well to the point where the Philadelphia Flyers put him in competition with Marty Biron for the starting role, which Niittymaki could never play consistently enough to win. Maybe that competition was for Biron's benefit; it didn't help either Niittymaki's stock or the confidence that he could be something more than a caddie in this league.
So hopefully Mike Smith bounces back from his post-concussion syndrome well enough to be the No. 1 Lawton labels him, because Niittymaki is very much a backup goaltender. That's why we suspected there would be more interest in Biron for Tampa, but this is an indication that Smith's health and their confidence in him as a starter aren't concerns. (His numbers warranted that confidence, too.)
Then again, maybe the Lightning just wanted to guarantee some points against the Thrashers next season.
So Niittymaki goes from nearly signing with Ray Emery's old team in the KHL to finding a plum backup role in the NHL, which naturally makes one wonder how much the Russian League is factoring into negotiations for agents and NHL squads for free agents of a certain status.
Speaking of the KHL: The strange international incident involving Joel Kwiatkowski and the Atlanta Thrashers appears to have ended. The former NHL defenseman agreed to a deal with the Thrashers without disclosing that he has already committed to SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL for next season, according to an e-mail Don Waddell sent to the New York Times on Thursday.
The Thrashers rescinded their offer, and Kwiatkowski will return to the KHL for another season. The Times asked for, but hasn't received, comment from the Kwiatkowski camp about how this all went down. Let's just all be happy that Joel Kwiatkowski isn't this summer's Alex Radulov. Because he's Joel Kwiatkowski.