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New Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Antero Niittymaki says his surgically repaired hips are not a problem

Give Antero Niittymaki credit for not trying to dress up a messy medical history.

The Lightning's new goal­tender — signed Friday to a one-year deal for about $600,000 — has had three hip surgeries over the past 38 months; each hip for a torn labrum and what Niittymaki called an additional "clean-up" procedure on his left.

"I'm not going to lie to anybody," Niittymaki said from his native Finland. "It's not like a normal healthy hip, but it's as good as it can be."

That said, "I feel 100 percent right now. The hip is not going to be a problem playing 50, 60 games. That's for sure."

If things go the way general manager Brian Lawton plans, Niittymaki will play 27-32 games as Mike Smith's backup.

Smith and Niittymaki make an interesting pair. One has bad hips. The other still is rehabbing from postconcussion syndrome and hasn't skated since Jan. 30.

But the Lightning training staff has gone over Niittymaki's "file" in-depth, Lawton said. And while he admitted "there are no guarantees," he added, "we feel very confident."

Same with Smith.

"Mike is 100 percent," Lawton said. "He's working out. We don't have any concerns."

The hope is Niittymaki, 29, will lighten Smith's load.

When the inexperienced Karri Ramo was to be the backup, there was talk Smith might play between 60 and 70 games. With Niittymaki (and Ramo playing in Russia), that could be reduced to 50.

Unsaid was if Smith doesn't return to previous form, Niittymaki, at 6 feet 1, 195 pounds, has the chops for a larger role.

He won a Calder Cup title in 2005 with AHL Philadelphia. He won silver with Finland at the 2006 Olympics, and in five seasons and 161 games with the Flyers as a starter and backup, he was 62-61-23 with a 3.01 goals-against average and .901 save percentage.

Last season: 15-8-6 in 32 games with a 2.76 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.

Not bad considering his September 2008 "clean-up" surgery that kept him out of training camp but readied him for the start of the season. That after left hip surgery in April 2007 and right hip surgery in May 2006.

Fair to say concerns about Niittymaki's brittle hips helped reduce his salary from last season's $1.375 million.

Lawton sees a bargain: "We just think there might be a little bit more value there than other people realize."

Besides, Niittymaki said, "The doctors say I'll 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."

That settled, Niittymaki went on to more important issues such as the pronunciation of his first name (AHN-teh-roh), his 13-0-0 record against the Thrashers, who last season beat Tampa Bay four of six, and that contrary to Internet rumors, he did not sign with a team in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.

"I don't know who put out those rumors," he said. "I never signed anything. There was a lot of interest from a Russian team, and that was pretty much it. My first thing was always to look for a job in the NHL, and I'm really glad that happened."

If his hips hold up, so will the Lightning.

Around the league

Canadiens: Wing Travis Moen signed a three-year deal and defenseman Paul Mara a one-year deal. Financial terms weren't disclosed. Moen, 27, is considered a defensive forward and last season blocked 78 shots and had 171 hits between the Ducks and Sharks. He added seven goals and nine assists. Mara, 29, drafted seventh overall by the Lightning in 1997, had five goals and 16 assists for the Rangers last season.

Capitals: Brendan Morrison signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal. The center, who turns 34 next month, had 16 goals and 15 assists between the Ducks and Stars last season.

Devils: Goalie Yann Danis signed and likely will back up Martin Brodeur. Terms were not disclosed. In a career-high 31 games for the Islanders last season, he went 10-17-3 with a 2.86 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.

Winter Classic: The league is expected to announce Wednesday that the Bruins will host the outdoor game at Fenway Park in Boston on Jan. 1. Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs said in late May he expected the game to be at Fenway and the NHL would make it official in July. The opponent is expected to be the Flyers or Capitals.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

fast facts

Young Guns scrimmage

When/where: 7 tonight; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa

Admission: Free

Autographs: Defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Matt Walker and center Steven Stamkos will sign at intermission on the main concourse. Prospects will sign after the scrimmage and skills competition.

New Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Antero Niittymaki says his surgically repaired hips are not a problem 07/10/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 10, 2009 11:41pm]
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