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Net loss? It's looking more and more like Niemi won't be a Hawk
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff

Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi celebrates with the Stanley Cup.

 

Associated Press

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Published: 7/30/2010 8:28 PM

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It doesn't look good as far as the Blackhawks keeping goalie Antti Niemi.

Niemi's arbitration award will be announced today and multiple sources believe the number will end up well past $3 million, perhaps close to $4 million, which the Hawks couldn't fit under the salary cap the way the roster stands today.

"I think he's gone," one of Niemi's Hawks teammates said Friday before the start of the team's third annual convention at the Hilton Chicago.

Another NHL source wondered how the arbitrator couldn't see to award Niemi the $4 million he is believed to have sought when the Hawks are paying their other goalie, Cristobal Huet, the one that didn't win the Stanley Cup, a salary of $5.6 million.

"I don't see how this works out in the Hawks' favor," the source said.

It's believed the Hawks offered Niemi prior to going to arbitration a three-year contract worth $8 million, which would have been a friendly cap hit for them of a little more than $2.6 million.

Once the arbitration award comes down today the Hawks can choose to accept it, walk away from it or trade Niemi's rights.

Three teams that likely would be interesting in acquiring Niemi are San Jose, Philadelphia and Washington. You would certainly expect the Hawks to look to the Flyers and Capitals first rather than deal Niemi to the Sharks, their Western Conference rivals.

It was interesting to note that during the introductions at the opening ceremonies for this weekend's convention on Friday, not one goalie was present - not even Corey Crawford.

There continues to be speculation that if the Hawks part ways with Niemi, they will attempt to sign veteran Marty Turco as a free agent. Turco turns 35 next month.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding their goaltending and the loss of key forwards such as Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and John Madden, there is a belief among the Hawks players and management that this will be a team ready to contend for a Stanley Cup again in 2010-11.

"You've got to look at it in a positive way," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "We all know it's sad to see our teammates move on, guys who played their hearts out to help us win the Stanley Cup, but it gives a lot of guys an opportunity to play now and who probably deserve a good chance to play some good minutes like Jake Dowell, Bryan Bickell and Jack Skille."

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville says he is excited for the new season but admitted he was keeping an eye on the Niemi situation.

"I'm excited," Quenneville said. "The reality is we're going to be making changes, but I'm excited about how it's all going to fit together and how good we can be."

General manager Stan Bowman will be waiting like everyone else today for Niemi's arbitration award to come in, but the potential for losing a Cup-winning goalie didn't diminish his enthusiasm for next season.

"You have to realize we have most of our defense back other than (Brent) Sopel and we have all our top forwards back, so I think there's a lot to be excited about," Bowman said. "When you mention guys like Bickell and Skille, although they're maybe unfamiliar to the fan base, these are guys that probably should have been playing here sooner. I think they're more than ready and are going to come in a really make an impact for us.

"Our core guys are going to be even better than they were. They're young guys who haven't really even reached their potential yet so I think you're going to see a better version of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, (Brent) Seabrook and (Patrick) Sharp. These are all young guys. That's what we're focused on and something we've to try to communicate to the fans."