Antti Niemi used to live near Finnish countryman Kari Lehtonen. Now the pair will share a locker room in Dallas, faced with the persistent question of who will be the No. 1 goalie for the Stars, if they even have one.
The Stars signed Niemi to a three-year contract worth $4.5 million per season, the team announced Monday. Dallas had acquired the rights to Niemi at the NHL draft in a trade with San Jose that sent a seventh-round pick to the Sharks.
Dallas GM Jim Nill has said he is comfortable going into the season with both Niemi and incumbent starter Lehtonen, who is signed through 2017-18 at an average salary of $5.9 million.
"I've talked to both guys," Nill said Monday after the deal was announced. "They're both excited. The endgame is that we want to win. They're excited that this gives us a better chance to win, and that's what we're all here for."
The Stars wanted help for Lehtonen after one of his worst seasons statistically, with Dallas missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years in large part because of an inconsistent defense. With close to $20 million in salary-cap space, Nill said the Stars had the room to improve their goaltending depth.
Nill said there were too many times Dallas had to play Lehtonen when he needed rest, and the front office settled on Niemi as the best option to fix that problem.
"It's going to be great to work with Kari," said Niemi. "I think in the NHL you have a lot of games, so I think there's room for two guys playing a lot."
Both players are 31, with Niemi a few months older. But Lehtonen has 510 career games to 338 for Niemi, whose goals-against average is substantially better (2.39 to 2.70). Both have 32 career shutouts, with similar save percentages.
"One guy's going to start the first game, and we're just going to play it by ear from there," Nill said. "They're both going to play lots of games. It's going to work itself out. There's a lot of injuries. Things happen. We just know that we have now taken care of that one position that we were worried about."
Niemi went 31-23-7 with a .914 save percentage last season with the Sharks and won a total of 163 games in five years with San Jose. Before that, he won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, finishing that postseason winning all 16 games, posting a .910 save percentage and becoming the first Finnish goaltender to win the Cup.
He signed with the Sharks for one year and $2 million after leading Chicago to the Cup. He cemented his status as the Sharks' starter after an early adjustment period and re-signed with San Jose the following offseason for four years and $15.2 million.
After a strong 2013-14, Niemi's 2014-15 struggles mirrored those of his team, which missed the postseason for the first time since 2002-03.
Niemi was a part of Finland's bronze-medal-winning team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, though he did not see any time in net.
The Associated Press and ESPN's Craig Custance contributed to this report.