After being the NHL’s worst salary cap management team and becoming Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks have become sellers during the free agency period. In addition to gutting their roster, they have decided to walk away from paying the $2.75 million awarded to goaltender Antti Niemi in arbitration and signed Dallas Stars goaltender Marty Turco to a one-year deal. Niemi is now an unrestricted free agent.
In 39 games (35 starts) last season, Niemi was 26-7-4 with a 2.25 GAA (fourth in NHL), .912 SV% and seven shutouts (third in NHL). Niemi also played well in the playoffs, going 16-6 with a 2.63 GAA, .910 SV% and two shutouts.
The 34 year-old Turco is still a very good goaltender and is a steal at $1.30 million; however, Niemi is younger and played a large role in Chicago’s success last season. Walking away from the 26 year-old Niemi is a mind-numbing decision. The Blackhawks have nobody to blame but themselves for being unable to pay Niemi. They are caught between a rock and a hard place with their cap situation. Chicago is currently over the salary cap by several million dollars. They are still stuck with overpaid 34 year-old goaltender Cristobal Huet ($5.625 million) and defenseman Brian Campbell ($7.14 million). Huet won’t see free agency until after the 2012-2013 season and Campbell won’t be a free agent until after the 2015-2016 season.
The contracts given by the Blackhawks the past few seasons are reckless and senseless. Barring any trades that may ease their cap concerns and keep them competitive, their roster-gutting summer will more than likely continue as they struggle to get under the cap. If I were the general manager of an NHL team, I would be offering mid-level draft picks to steal players such as Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook.
The Blackhawks will still be a solid team on the ice; however, they won’t be penciled in as favorites to defend their title. Look for the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks to fight for a Stanley Cup Finals berth.
I would not be surprised to see Niemi sign with the Philadelphia Flyers, the very team he defeated to win the Stanley Cup.