CSN Bay Area posted a piece about San Jose Sharks alum Evgeni Nabokov pushing for a starting role on Team Russia on Friday, Aug. 30. Attached to it was a video about how Team Finland invitee Antti Niemi carried his NHL team in the first half of the 2013 season.
Those two media pieces speak volumes about the play San Jose has enjoyed in net in recent years.
Nabokov won the Calder Trophy in 2001 as the best rookie in the NHL, and his development allowed the Sharks to trade away Jonas Hedberg. Even when it turned out he was battling a sports hernia injury in 2006, Vesa Toskala was a suitable fill-in. They could have had Miikka Kiprusoff had they not traded him in 2004.
Then even when all of them were gone in 2010, the Sharks brought in the goalie that orchestrated a sweep over them in the Western Conference finals en route to a Stanley Cup. Niemi not only carried them for much of 2013, but did the same thing at the end of the 2010-11 regular season.
That is five starting goalies from one franchise in this millennium—three of them true stars. Many teams do not enjoy that success in their history, and San Jose’s success in net runs almost to their inception.
In fact, if Niemi makes Team Finland, he will be added to the list of six Sharks that were good enough to mind the nets of their national teams in the Olympics.
Arguably the best goalie to ever be a product of the San Jose Sharks, Miikka Kiprusoff beat the team that developed him in the 2004 Western Conference finals. He was one goal away from winning the Stanley Cup that year and finished his NHL career with a 319-213-71 record, .912 save pct. and 2.49 goals against average (GAA) in 623 games.
With the Sharks, Kipper was only 14-21-3 with an .897 save pct. and 2.84 GAA. Even though he had just an .894 save pct. and a 2.64 GAA in the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, he went 3-2 and led Team Finland to a silver medal they were not expected to get.
Evgeni Nabokov easily has the best body of work of any goalie during his time with the San Jose Sharks. He played 563 games with them, compiling a 293-178-66 record with 50 shutouts, a .912 save pct. and 2.39 GAA. His 2004 performance (.935, 1.71) enabled the deepest Stanley Cup playoff run in team history.
His performance in the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics was stellar until the bronze medal game—he still finished with a .940 save pct. and 1.34 GAA. He was not good in either game he played during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but was exceptional two years earlier in capturing a World Championship.
Johan Hedberg never actually played for the San Jose Sharks. He was fourth on their system depth chart in 2001, when the Pittsburgh Penguins decided they wanted to change goalies at the trade deadline. He came in and solidified their back end, and was still an effective backup last season.
Still a free agent, he could come back to San Jose if Alex Stalock and Harri Sateri are not ready for the job. He barely played in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, giving up just one goal in a win.
Antero Niittymaki was the top goalie of the San Jose Sharks for less than two months of 2010—in the summer, no less. He did play 24 games for them, going 12-7-3 but with only an .896 save pct. and 2.72 GAA. Eventually, he played out the second year of his contract in the minor leagues and has not returned to the NHL.
His foray into the Olympics was far more impressive. In 2006, he helped Team Finland capture a silver medal, going 5-1 with a 1.34 GAA.
Arturs Irbe was on the first roster of the San Jose Sharks in 1991-92. He has played the second most games in net in franchise history (183), but his stats are impressively bad: 51-97-26, .889 and 3.47.
Still, he won seven playoff games with a team that barely qualified for the postseason. Irbe had similar support and struggles on the highest international stage, going four games without a win for Team Latvia in 2002 and 2006.
Thomas Greiss played in 44 games for the San Jose Sharks, who drafted and developed him but never had room to get him much action. He was a solid backup, going 17-16-3 with a .912 save pct. and 2.52 GAA.
He did not fare so well when he played for Team Germany in 2006 and 2010, going four games without a win while allowing 20 goals between them. Still, he is clearly his nation’s best goalie option as of now.