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Hawks still have wiggle room on Niemi
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff

Antti Niemi

 

Rick West | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/31/20 5:06 PM

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The Blackhawks might have caught their biggest break of the summer Saturday when Antti Niemi's arbitration award came in at $2.75 million.

Hawks general manager Stan Bowman now has until Monday to decide whether to accept the one-year, $2.75 million deal, walk away from it, or trade the second-year goaltender.

Bowman chose not to comment on the arbitration decision until he was ready to reveal the direction the team would go.

It's believed Niemi sought close to $4 million from the arbitrator. Any decision over $3 million would have made it virtually impossible for the Hawks to fit Niemi's salary under the NHL's salary without moving another significant player.

The award of $2.75 million appears to give the Hawks the tiniest bit of wiggle room to fit 20 or 21 players under the league's $59.4 million salary cap.

This has been an off-season of radical change for the Stanley Cup champs because of salary-cap issues. It's difficult to think of another recent championship team that has been hit so hard by having to deal with the salary cap.

Already gone are nine players off the championship team.

"It probably hasn't happened too many times," coach Joel Quenneville said. "One thing you have to normally guard against is the Stanley Cup hangover, but I don't think that's in place going forward."

Many of the Hawks in town for this weekend's fan convention have tried to view the changes in a positive way, though knowing that the loss of Niemi would be a tough pill to swallow.

"That's another nerve-racking situation," captain Jonathan Toews said. "When it comes down to it, the way that works, you wish him all the best and whatever happens, happens.

"We hope that he's still going to be on our team. We all know how good he was and what he did to help us win the Stanley Cup this year. If we want to do it again, he's one of those guys you want here."

If the Hawks are to contend for another Stanley Cup they likely will need to have to do it with a bargain-basement bottom half of the roster.

In order to fit in Niemi's cap hit, the Hawks might have as many as nine players making less that $900,000.

Those nine players could turn out to be defensemen John Scott, Jordan Hendry and Jassen Cullimore; forwards Bryan Bickell, Jack Skille, Jake Dowell, Jeff Taffe and Viktor Stalberg; and goalie Hannu Toivonen.

On a team that needs to watch every dollar, Toivonen's cap hit of $500,000 could hand him the backup job over Corey Crawford, whose hit is $800,000.

Combined those nine players would earn about $5.178 million.

Add that to the $53.9 million including bonuses for Toews, Niemi, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland, Tomas Kopecky, Troy Brouwer, Brian Campbell, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, and it's roughly $59.078 million - leaving approximately $246,000 of wiggle room under the $59.4 million cap.

That number could become larger if the Hawks decide to carry only 20 players to start the season.

"This has all been a little disappointing, but it's understandable," Sharp said. "You're excited about winning a championship, then you lose some guys and it hurts the fans and it hurts the players, but at the same time we have a lot of guys coming back.

"I think if you look at our team compared to a lot of other teams in our conference and we still have to be considered favorites. I still think the fans, once the season starts, will enjoy the new-edition Blackhawks."

There's always a chance the Hawks will walk away from Niemi's $2.75 million award, thus opening up the option of pursuing cheaper veteran free-agent goalies such as Marty Turco and Jose Theodore.