Lightning's new backup goaltender Antero Niittymaki insists his hips are "not a problem," and he "never signed " in Russia
All things being equal, the Tampa Bay Lightning's signing of Antero (pronounced AHN-teh-roh) Niittymaki, looks like a good deal. Especially for about $600,000. He's an experienced guy who can fill in ably for Mike Smith (25 to 32 games according to GM Brian Lawton). He also has a good pedigree, having won a silver medal with Finland at the 2006 Olympics, and he has a Calder Cup championship under his belt from 2005 with AHL Philadelphia.
He also was pretty good last season for the Flyers, going 15-8-6 in 32 games with a .912 save percentage and a 2.76 goals-against average.
And here is quite the stat: Niittymaki is 13-0-0 in his career against the Thrashers with a 1.78 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage.
What makes things a bit unequal are Niittymaki's hips, which have undergone three surgeries. He had surgery in May 2006 for a torn labrum in his right hip, surgery in April 2007 for a torn labrum in his left hip, and surgery in September 2008 on his left hip, a procedure Niittymaki characterized as a "clean-up." Though he missed training camp, he came off the bench to play in the Flyers Oct. 11 opener.
"I know there's a lot of talk about my hip," Niittymaki said from Finland. "I mean, it's good. I'm not going to lie to anybody. It's not like a normal, healthy hip, but it's as good as it can be. The doctor says it will be fine many years from now, and I'll be able to play many years from now. So, I don't think it's a problem. I feel 100 percent right now."
"In depth," GM Brian Lawton said when asked how extensively the team looked into Niittymaki's medical history. "The trainers have looked through the file. (Head medical trainer) Tommy Mulligan has been involved. There's no guarantees, but we feel very confident."
Niittymaki, 29, sounded confident, too. He said he could play 50 or 60 games, "And the hip is not going to be a problem."
Lawton, though, sees Niittymaki playing between 25 to 32. That would give Smith 57 games at most. After playing 41 last season and not skating since Jan. 30 because of post-concussion syndrome, Lawton said he believes that is a good number. He also stressed that Smith is "100 percent" and "the starter, so don't read anything in to this that way."
As for the Internet report that Niittymaki had signed with a team in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League (reports that never came with attribution or an official announcement, by the way), Niittymaki said they were wrong.
"I don't know who put out those rumors," he said. "I never signed. There was a lot of interest from Russian team, and that was pretty much it. I never signed anything, and I don't know how it came out that way. My first thing was always to look for a job in the NHL."
"He did not sign anything," Lawton said. "That question was asked to him and every member of their legal team."