On Saturday, the Chicago Blackhawks and their Stanley Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi learned that the third party arbitrator decided that Niemi was worth $2.75M in 2010-11.
The Blackhawks now have 48 hours to either accept this award, reject it completely, or trade Niemi.
What is important now, and what will create drama for the rest of the weekend, is whether or not the Hawks pick up the option. They can afford Niemi at $2.75M.
This could really be the worst case scenario for Niemi. There isn’t a strong market for a goalie asking for $2.5-$4M right now, so both finding a suitor either for the Blackhawks in a trade or for Zito/Niemi if the Hawks reject the award is going to be tough.
Almost all of the 19 teams that currently have over $3M in available cap space have a goalie (or two) on their roster. The two best options for Niemicould be the Edmonton Oilers and the Washington Capitals. However, the Oilers,who could be without Nikolai Khabibulin to begin the season (jail), like Devan Dubnyk, and the Caps would have to fall out of love with Seymon Varlamov to bring in a new starting netminder. Given Varlamov’s $800k cap number this season, that’s doubtful.
If the Blackhawks could trade Niemi, they would stand to get nothing more than a mid- to low-round pick back for him because of the circumstances. If they reject the award, Niemi becomes an unrestricted free agent with an asking price too big for a market that has already sent veterans like Evgeni Nabokov to Russia and left Jose Theodore and Marty Turco on the market for a full month.
Which brings us to Turco.
If reports are accurate, Turco will be the man between the pipes if/whent he Hawks walk away from Niemi. Depending on his final cap number, this could prove to be a solid move for the Hawks providing enough cap space that an in-season deal to add depth could happen if needed.