Is Keeping Antti Niemi the Right Decision for the Chicago Blackhawks?

Michael Wagner@MichaelDWagnerSenior Analyst IAugust 1, 2010

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

Speculation surrounding whether the Chicago Blackhawks will accept the arbitration award given to Stanley Cup winning goaltender Antti Niemi has run rampant since Saturday afternoon.

We have heard many scenarios from the 'Hawks signing Niemi and then trading him to the 'Hawks signing him and then trading another roster player.

In my mind, I think the Blackhawks will accept the arbitration award for Niemi. However, then the real question begins, who do the 'Hawks keep?

If the Blackhawks do decide to keep Niemi, they will have to trade another roster player, likely versatile forward Tomas Kopecky.

Kopecky has a rather sizable cap hit ($1.2 million) for a player who spent most of his season on the fourth line but found his place on the 'Hawks in the playoffs being a solid contributor on a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.

If Kopecky is slotted to play on that same line as Toews and Hossa, his salary would actually be a bargain for a top six forward.

The real problem I have with the 'Hawks keeping Niemi this season is that he will likely be gone after the 2010-2011 season, seeking big money out on the free agent market and leaving the 'Hawks in the same situation they are in this offseason.

By trading away Niemi, you are gaining some value out of him and also allowing for a young goaltender like Corey Crawford to develop his game at the NHL level behind a veteran like Marty Turco or Jose Theodore.

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Since the start of the arbitration hearing with Niemi, there has been much talk about Turco being the 'Hawks back up plan in net; and in my opinion, he would be a great one year stopgap.

While Turco is not the same goaltender he was back during the early stages of his career, he wouldn't be asked to steal games behind such a solid defense and the Blackhawks have.

Another plus to letting Niemi go would be that the 'Hawks would then also have the cap flexibility to add a veteran defenseman who could play on the 'Hawks third defensive pairing and possibly mentor a young defenseman like Shawn Lalonde, Nick Leddy or Ivan Vishnevskiy.

So the question is, do the 'Hawks continue to subtract from a forward core when they have already lost Colin Fraser, Ben Eager, Adam Burish, Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien or do they chance going with a one year stopgap in goal and hope Corey Crawford develops into a number one goaltender?

I do appreciate everything that Antti Niemi has done for the Blackhawks and his role in returning the Cup to Chicago but the 'Hawks need to look toward the future and Niemi will not necessarily be in their future past next season.

However, we should know within 24 hours whether the Blackhawks will accept the award for Antti Niemi. If they do accept, new speculation will begin.

What do you think? What will the 'Hawks do?