The jubilation of winning the Stanley Cup has begun to come to a close. Over the weekend, with the 3rd annual Chicago Blackhawks Convention congesting the city streets, many could only speak of the goaltending situation at hand.
With the Antti Niemi arbitration hearing taken place on Thursday, many at the convention held their breath for most of Saturday preparing for a ruling.
Some were optimistic regarding a projected amount, while the vast majority knew that the situation would only get more difficult.
Noted by many sources, the Blackhawks had offered Niemi $8 million over three years, but were turned down.
While it was weighted with a cap friendly hit for the upcoming season, the reality is that it was not far away from what the arbitrator ruled at ($2.75 million) stretched over a three year span.
Yes, ideally you would think that Niemi signs this year for $2.75 million and then seeks more next year should the success remain consistent.
While agreeing with the thought, unfortunately the greed somehow seemed to outweigh the desire to win. Even with a roster that is much lighter via trades since the close of the season, the Blackhawks are still in position to be successful.
So why would Bill Zito, Niemi’s agent, push for more money in a market where netminders aren’t finding homes?
Of any position to negotiate for, Zito should have been aware of the situation that teams may not have to shell out big dollars for a goalie. If the men in front of them do their jobs as the Blackhawks defenseman did regularly, than it should lower the shots and minimize the quality of shots at the same time.
The biggest example should be looked no further than right toward the Central Division. The age of the goalies is not only mind-boggling, but the talent level is league supreme.
In Detroit, the Red Wings will start Jimmy Howard, a 26-year-old who proved that he could be the future of the Wings. Coming off of his first full year between the pipes, he led the Wings to the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
The Nashville Predators will continue to be led by Pekka Rinne, a 27-year-old that stole the starting role his rookie season and hasn’t relinquished it since.
Columbus provides the division with Steve Mason. He has two years of starting experience, while totaling 119 games at only 22-years-old. Many could argue that Mason would have experienced much more success if he would have a better supporting cast.
Finally we have the St. Louis Blues, who many all know, will feature playoff sensation and former Montreal Canadian, Jaroslav Halak. Turning 26-years-old this season, Halak received a raise of $3.75 million. Unlike Niemi, he brings experience.
While looking at ages, clearly it is a division that has just seen the sunrise of success.
With that, the Halak salary may be what Zito was focused on while pushing for a Niemi pay hike. Unfortunately what can’t be compared is the experience that Niemi lacks.
Oft mentioned, Niemi has played in less than 70 games at the NHL level. While playing a big role in the recent championship, it was imagined a raise would be due. Ideally everyone agreed so as well.
Not everyone thought the Niemi camp would request a number in the range of $3-$4 million.
One had to assume that any request made had to have been made with the Blackhawks cap issues in mind. That assumption couldn’t be more wrong.
Obviously hockey is a business and everyone looks for that “payday”, unfortunately Niemi may have shot himself in the foot. Not only did they (Niemi and Zito) demand an amount that was not awarded, but they may have cast a dark cloud over themselves.
While Saturday served as only the tip of the iceberg, the decision of Stan Bowman will come down like a hammer.
In order to keep the outlook and confidence of the organization, hesitation would doom supporters and possibly the locker room. After a summer of shipping away nearly a third of their roster, the skeptics have multiplied regarding the Blackhawks ability to win at the rate it did last year.
After a weekend of fan appreciation and reassurance that the Blackhawks will remain committed, it is most important to make a quick decision.
To sign Niemi for $2.75 million and turn around to trade him, makes the most sense for an organization that remains concerned about flirting with the salary cap.
When sources continue to mention the possibility of acquiring Marty Turco at $1.5 million for one-year, it seems all minds may be made up.
Why shouldn’t they be?
Why would an organization want to go right down this path again next season?
Obviously the salary cap situation may be better next season, but that would ideally give Zito even more of a reason to ask for more next time around.
The basics of the situation come down to the facts that while Niemi has much more of an upside into the future, Turco can do what the Blackhawks need right now.
This will not only give aide to the development of the seemingly organizational favorite, Corey Crawford, but for once take a bound in the right direction regarding the salary cap.
While some may think the salary cap forced Bowman’s hand in trading Niemi, the sole person that forced any move was Zito.
The Blackhawks brought Niemi in and gave him opportunity. While it may have been aided by his lower salary cap when the decision came to be, the Blackhawks took that chance.
The chanced blossomed into an opportunity and that opportunity turned into a privilege. Niemi did not put the team on his back.
The team played as one.
When someone slumped, another picked up the slack. That is what champions do. Many other notable goalies could have undoubtedly filled in for Niemi.
Niemi stepped up to the opportunity and accomplished what the team goal was… win the Stanley Cup.
When is the Blackhawks’ commitment repaid? Through helping a team out that not only presented him opportunity, but also is in path for success?
While situations are incomparable, maybe Niemi and Zito need to speak with Jack Skille and his agent, Pat Brisson. To play on a championship team sacrifices must be made.
Some block pucks, while some have to take pay cuts.
Simply put, the quickest way to succeed is through humility and that is just what may have cost Niemi a chance at remaining a Blackhawk.