July 29 Is a Big Day for the Chicago Blackhawks

Imtiaz FerdousCorrespondent IIJuly 27, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 09:  Antti Niemi #31 of the Chicago Blackhawks handles the puck against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Six of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Wachovia Center on June 9, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Although Blake Wheeler's arbitration hearing today will set the standard for arbitration in the NHL, most NHL GMs probably have July 29 circled on their calenders. This is because that is the day of Antti Niemi's arbitration hearing.

During the regular season Niemi played 39 games with a save percentage of .912 and a GAA of 2.25 with seven shutouts. He had a record of 26-7-4. Pretty good, but not brilliant as he played in less than half of Chicago's regular season games, though the record was phenomenal.

The story gets really good in the playoffs. In the 22 games he played he had a 16-6 record with a save percentage of .91 and a GAA of 2.63 with two shutouts. Although these numbers seem pedestrian, remember the 22 games were played much closer together than his regular season games. Furthermore, the teams in the playoffs are inherently better, in fact, he disposed of the Sharks, one of the best teams in the West. As such, these statistics are phenomenal.

However, this is only the first year that Niemi has played in the NHL. As such, he could be following the footsteps of Andrew Raycroft (yes I'm still bitter about that) and be a one hit wonder. In the AHL he played okay but not great, but in Finland he was phenomenal. It is hard to predict what he will be in the future.

Niemi being a goaltender would also be very difficult to compare to another goaltender around his age. The arbitration rules do not allow them to include salaries of a comparable goaltender who is a free agent and give the same salary. So it will be hard to compare, they will probably look back at what some other goaltenders got a while back and adjust the price up.

So why do NHL general managers have this date circled on their calendar? Well this could be because the Blackhawks are already $403,256 above the salary cap for next year (due to bonuses) and as such, the few million dollars needed to sign Niemi will force them to either move someone or let Niemi go.

Also, keep in mind they need another forward, at least one more defenseman, and a goaltender (if you don't include Niemi) to fill out their roster. So they need to make a deal anyway, this will just tip them over the edge.

Keep in mind also that in the summer you can go over the salary cap by 10 percent. I don't think anyone expects Niemi's arbitration award to push them over that limit but it can make it dangerously close.

This means the only player they would be able to trade is Patrick Sharp. Yes, their general manager said he will not deal Patrick Sharp, but then again he could be forced to. Suter denied shopping Phaneuf after all. The only other significant salary they can move is Bolland and it is doubtful anybody wants to pay $3.375 million per year to a player who scored 19 goals once.

As for the defensemen, they are depleted enough and as such must be untouchable. Brian Campbell is someone nobody wants simply because of his contract, but he is quite good otherwise. They just extended Duncan Keith so he's immovable. Brent Seabrook is signed to a reasonable salary and Niklas Hjalmarsson was someone they were forced to overpay for due to the Sharks offer sheet.

They also only have one goaltender but they are willing to move him for anything. However if there are no takers for Marty Turco, and there were none for Nabokov why would teams give up players to acquire Huet to that bloated contract?

It's quite amazing what Niemi's arbitration does for the other teams, in fact, I would expect general managers to still be calling Stan Bowman to see if they can get players for practically free so that he can sign Niemi to that extension.