On Saturday, the Chicago Blackhawks and their Stanley Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi learned that the third party arbitrator decided that Niemi was worth $2.75M in 2010-11.
The Blackhawks now have 48 hours to either accept this award, reject it completely, or trade Niemi.
What is important now, and what will create drama for the rest of the weekend, is whether or not the Hawks pick up the option. They can afford Niemi at $2.75M. This could really be the worst case scenario for Niemi.
There isn’t a strong market for a goalie asking for $2.5-$4M right now. Fnding a suitor for the Blackhawks in a trade or for Zito/Niemi if the Hawks reject the award is going to be tough.
Almost all of the 19 teams that currently have over $3M in available cap space have a goalie or two on their roster. The two best options for Niemi could be the Edmonton Oilers and the Washington Capitals. The Oilers, who could be without Nikolai Khabibulin to begin the season (jail), still like Devan Dubnyk. The Caps would have to fall out of love with Seymon Varlamov to bring in a new starting netminder. Given Varlamov’s $800k cap number this season, that’s doubtful.
If the Blackhawks could trade Niemi, they would stand to get nothing more than a mid-to-low-round pick back for him because of the circumstances. If they reject the award, Niemi becomes an unrestricted free agent with an asking price too big for the market. Veterans like Evgeni Nabokov had to go to Russia and Jose Theodore and Marty Turco have been on the market for a full month.
If reports are accurate, Turco will be the man between the pipes if/when the Hawks walk away from Niemi. Depending on his final cap number, this could prove to be a solid move for the Hawks providing enough cap space that an in-season deal to add depth could happen if needed.