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Status of Hawks' Niemi could take center stage
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff

Chicago Blackhawks' goalie Antti Niemi at the victory parade.


Rick West | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/28/2010 10:04 PM

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With the Blackhawks having just won the Stanley Cup, you would expect this weekend's fan convention to be the best one ever.

Unfortunately for the Hawks, Antti Niemi's arbitration hearing is today in Toronto and there's a chance the ruling could come down right in the middle of the three-day convention that begins Friday, potentially spoiling the party.

If the Hawks must part ways with Niemi because they don't believe they can fit his salary under the cap, it would only add to what many fans already feel has been a bitterly disappointing off-season because of the trades of Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd.

Those three popular ex-Hawks - as well as Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, Adam Burish and John Madden - won't be around for the fans to thank this weekend. Too awkward, we're guessing, since they now play for other teams with the exception of Madden, who remains a free agent certainly headed elsewhere.

While it might have been a nice gesture to invite Big Buff and the others back for the weekend, the Hawks apparently are looking ahead and not back.

The Hawks have little money left under the cap for Niemi, who is believed to be asking for more than $3 million a season in arbitration. The Hawks are offering less.

The two sides can negotiate up until the hearing after which it will be up to the arbitrator to decide on a figure within 48 hours for a one-year contract. If the Hawks believe the award is too high they can walk away from it and Niemi becomes an unrestricted free agent, sure to be gobbled up by San Jose, Philadelphia or Washington.

The Hawks probably can find a way to keep Niemi as long as his cap hit stays in the vicinity of $3 million. This likely would mean a bottom of the roster consisting of five to seven players earning $600,000 or less such as John Scott, Jack Skille, Brian Bickell, Jake Dowell, Jeff Taffe, Jordan Hendry and perhaps Jassen Cullimore and goalie Hannu Toivonen.

Of course, Cristobal Huet's $5.6 million cap hit still would need to come off the books for any of these numbers to work. As of today the Hawks are slightly above he NHL's salary cap of $59.4 million with Huet and including the bonuses due Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Various reports suggest the Hawks possibly being interested in veteran goaltender Marty Turco should it not work with Niemi.

Would the 34-year-old Turco take less than $3 million a year to play for a serious Cup contender such as the Hawks? He might, although Turco already has turned down a multiyear offer from the Flyers for $2 million a season.

Arbitration hearings can get nasty, but really the only negative about Niemi if you're the Hawks is his experience factor of one year in the NHL. After that his numbers speak for themselves.

Oh, yeah, and he won a Stanley Cup.

A report on Wednesday claimed the Hawks are possibly preparing to use Kings goalie Jonathan Quick as a comparable for Niemi. Good luck there.

Stanley Cups won: Niemi 1, Quick 0.

• The Hawks won't confirm the signing of defenseman Nick Leddy despite multiple reports claiming the 19-year-old University of Minnesota sophomore-to-be has decided to leave school after one year.

Leddy apparently has agreed to a three-year deal worth $2.7 million and would earn $900,000 should he make the Hawks' roster out of training camp.

The decision to sign Leddy could mean the Hawks still are shopping defenseman Brian Campbell and his $7.1 million cap hit.

The Hawks did formally announce Wednesday new contracts for Bickell and Skille. Bickell got a three-year deal with a $541,666 cap hit. Skille signed a one-year deal for $600,000.