The Montreal Canadiens will have a new backup goaltender next season, as GM Marc Bergevin told Antti Niemi he won’t be back with the team. The veteran goaltender’s contract is coming to an end and he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
It’s hard to argue with the decision to let Niemi go after the struggles he experienced this season. The 35-year old goaltender saw his numbers decline across the board and finished with an 8-6-2 record and .887 save percentage. That’s where things appeared to be headed when Niemi was bought out by the Dallas Stars in 2017, but he found incredible success with Montreal in the second half of the 2017-18 season.
The Canadiens though have a backup ready and waiting for an opportunity in Charlie Lindgren and a young goaltender in Cayden Primeau that will need playing time in the minor leagues. Lindgren was given the final game of the regular season once the Canadiens had been eliminated from playoff contention, and figures to at least compete for the backup role next season—though he experienced his own struggles this season in the AHL and could potentially be replaced by a more veteran option if Montreal finds one to their liking.
For Niemi, if this is the end it was quite a ride. Undrafted, the Finnish goaltender signed with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2008 and found himself starting in the playoffs by spring of 2010. As a rookie Niemi led the Blackhawks all the way to a Stanley Cup championship on the back of his .910 save percentage through 22 postseason starts. He would start another 43 games in the playoffs for San Jose and Dallas, but failed to capture another title. If he believes he can still compete at the highest level there will surely be people willing to give him a chance, but a guaranteed backup role seems like a stretch for the veteran netminder at this point in his career.