It would be surprising if the Blackhawks didn't execute a deal before the March 3 NHL trade deadline. If a more significant transaction is to happen, getting it done sooner might be less disruptive as the Hawks have games on both Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.
As many fans wait anxiously to see if the Hawks will deal Cristobal Huet for another goalie, that scenario may not play out. But Blackhawk management will have motive to make a significant trade which will help secure their goal keeping position for years to come.
Chicago general manager Stan Bowman may do what he can now so he isn't in a more helpless position later, concerning the re-signing of Antti Niemi. The longer the Hawks have to wait, the larger the contract for Niemi, if his performances stay as good through the playoffs.
If the Hawks are going to place all their chips on Niemi as the newly anointed number one goalie, Bowman may want to act sooner than later. There could be salary cap savings realized by signing Niemi to a contract extension before he becomes arbitration eligible on July 1.
By opening salary cap space for next season through a trade before the deadline the Hawks will have tagging room to sign Niemi to an extension.
Unless Niemi falters, the longer it takes to come to an agreement on an extension the more the Hawks will have to spend to retain him.
The Blackhawks are in no position to pay up for anyone and Bowman may not be able to wait. Every penny matters to the Hawks because of their many hefty long term contract commitments.
In the summer Niemi could choose to go through the arbitration process. In essence an arbitrator would then decide Niemi's value and award him a one year contract.
It is always a crap shoot as to what contract value an arbitrator will determine. It is a sticky situation which Bowman will want to avoid.
My guess is Niemi could finish the season with around 35 appearances which would be a good sample of his work. With continued success he could increase the likelihood of being awarded a large increase over his current salary cap hit of $826,875.
Niemi doesn't have a long resume and he might not live up to expectations. But.....
What would an arbitrator award a young goalie who was in the running for the Jennings Trophy in his first full season?
The Hawks have reason not to wait to find out.
After arbitration the Hawks will have two choices.
They can pay Niemi whatever his awarded contract amount states or trade him.
Bowman is in a tough spot because the next contract for Niemi as well as soon to be RFA Niklas Hjalmarsson will be influenced by their continued strong play. Both have exceeded expectations and the Hawks would want them as part of next season's team.
Hjalmarsson is not arbitration eligible so the Hawks have some leverage, unlike Niemi.
Since the lockout only one Chicago player, Kyle Calder, has taken the Hawks to arbitration. After being awarded a big raise Calder was traded within a few days.
If the Hawks believe Niemi is their goalie of the future they won't want to go through the sticky arbitration process and most likely would want to sign him to a longer term contract.
Bowman would be motivated to sign Niemi before he has a chance to be awarded the Jennings Trophy. That award goes to goalies who have played at least 25 games for the team with the best GAA.
At the break, the New Jersey Devils have allowed the fewest goals against, 144 which is only two less than the Blackhawks. Unless Niemi suffers a bad injury he will qualify for the Jennings because he already has played in 22 games. If the Hawks keep their current pace Niemi could have a well respected award on his resume to show off to an arbitrator.
My guess is Niemi could finish the regular season with around 35 appearances which would be a decent sample of his work. With a strong playoff run he would be in better position for a hefty raise.
The Hawks may want to make a trade now so as to be able to secure Niemi at a more cap friendly rate.
There were two areas the Hawks committed too much salary cap space to before this season began.
Chicago had a lot of money tied up in goalies and third pairing defensemen. With the Cam Barker trade Bowman has started to whittle away at that area of expense. Next he could try to initiate a plan to create cap space in the goal tending department.
Trading Huet for a goalie which will earn about the same as him, Tomas Vokoun for example, will mean Niemi is not in the Hawks future plans. They probably can't afford to tie up as much cap space for that position as this year, let alone more.
Trading Huet is a difficult task but others on the Hawk roster are desired.
The Hawks may have to wait to orchestrate a trade of Huet until the summer or may seek other ways to eliminate his cap hit then.
If Niemi is their goalie of the future look for them to trade now to open cap space so that he can be re-signed sooner than later.
Trade rumors surrounding the Hawks may have more to do with Bowman securing Niemi as their goalie for the future than trading Huet before the deadline.
It was a great finish to the men's Olympic hockey tournament, a truly exciting game.
Regardless, I would be surprised if the NHL participates in the Sochi games.
Because of the time difference and extended travel the league would probably have to shut down for three weeks.
Congratulations go out to the to the Chicago gold medal winners Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Jonathan Toews.
Toews was selected to the Olympic All-Star team. He was chosen as the Best Forward in the tourney.
Captain Serious showed the world why he has been compared to the great Bryan Trottier.
Kane also had a fine tourney and Blackhawk fans should be proud of all of them.
Scott Niedermayer played in the Olympics the way he approaches the regular season. He starts out slow and finishes strong.
If Niedermayer gives the go ahead to GM Bob Murray look for the Hawks to make a strong push to make him a Blackhawk.
The Vokoun for Huet plus... plus rumor has lost some steam.
If Vokoun is going to be traded they should be asking him to lift his no trade clause now. If so the Hawks would be in the hunt.
Don't exclude the Maple Leafs as a possible Blackhawk trade partner.
I still believe the Hawks will add a bottom six forward and a defenseman by March 3.
Don't forget about the trade deadline live chat featuring many on air personalities from XM Home Ice.
Additional blogs by Al Cimaglia concerning the Chicago Blackhawks and the NHL can be found at Hockey Independent.com.
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