Blackhawks

Arbitrator gives Niemi $2.75 million

It’s decision time for GM Stan Bowman.

After hearing the case between the Blackhawks and goaltender  Antti Niemi,  the arbitrator ruled Saturday seemingly in favor of Niemi, granting the Finn $2.75 millionfor what would be a one-year contract. Bowman and the ‘Hawks now have 48 hours to accept the figure or walk away and allow Niemi to be an unrestricted free agent.

There’s also a possibility the ‘Hawks could sign the tender and trade Niemi, which may be the best for both sides. The Blackhawks have been rumored to be exploring the possibility of signing  Marty Turco  or  Jose Theodore,  with each of them saving the ‘Hawks over $1 million of cap space compared to Niemi’s now-set cap number.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out, but I’m stick to what I’ve been saying all along: Start preparing for life without Niemi.

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One year, one Stanley Cup and a whole bunch of fun with Blackhawk Up

I’ve been thinking of what to write in this first sentence for quite sometime. I realized the reason it’s been so difficult is because I can barely put into words the amount of gratitude I have for all those who have made Blackhawk Up what it’s become.

Today marks the 365th day since Blackhawk Up launched on the FanSided network with me being the sole writer (save for one epic post by Forklift over at Hockee Night when I was on vacation during the Stanley Cup Final). It’s been one hell of a ride watching the site continuously grow with more and more readers each passing day. I glanced over the traffic numbers throughout the year, and the constant rise puts a huge smile on my face. The success of the site obviously spiked due to the Blackhawks’ run throughout the season, but I hope you all kept coming back because of the words I wrote.

I have so many loyal followers who have interacted with me through the comments, email, Twitter and mainly the Facebook page that it would take me forever to thank you all individually. With the amount of time I spend on making this site what I want it to be, it’s an amazing feeling knowing there are people out there who actually look forward to my next post. There aren’t many successful sites out there today with one writer, so the fact I’ve been able to provide constant posts for all of you who — for some reason — actually wait to read what I have to write is a great accomplishment. And it’s all because of you readers who stop by to take a gander.

I’ve been very right about a lot of things I’ve written here, and I’ve also been very, very wrong. I’ve been the calming influence, though I’ve also added plenty of fuel to the fire. I’ve taken on columnists from Detroit and even made a national television appearance when I got double-teamed like a fledgling pornstar.

No matter what I wrote, you were there to either agree or disagree for the past year — and I’ve welcomed, and will continue to welcome, both sides. You know why the Blackhawks and the Stanley Cup mean so much to me, and I’m glad I can explain my side of the story to those who share in my obsession.

With no disrespect to anyone else, I’d like to thank some people individually:

– Adam and Zach Best, the co-founders of FanSided, who launched the site, let me run with it and proceeded to let me have a voice throughout the network. Thanks for all your support and attention.

– My grandmother, who cringes at every single curse she reads, yet is still the most loyal reader of anyone. The woman actually sat and cried when she saw me on TV. She supports everything I do unconditionally, and Blackhawk Up is no different.

– The Blackhawks blogsphere, namely Fork and CT of Hockee Night and Sam, McClure and Killion of Second City Hockey. I’m sure all of them received my initial email and said, “Great, another shitty ‘Hawks site has popped up.” I think they all quickly learned I knew what I was doing, and we’ve all shared many adult beverages discussing the ‘Hawks. I’ve been on multiple PUCKCASTS with the Hockee Night fellas, and Sam has let me contribute to The Committed Indian on a few occasions. If I hadn’t started this site, I may have never met any of you. Thanks for the past year, and I look forward to many more.

– Jeff Erikson and Neil Brown, my partners in crime in Section 326, Row 12, Seats 9-11. Jeff has been my best friend since sophomore year in high school, and when he presented me with the opportunity to share a season ticket at the beginning of the 2008-09 season I jumped at the chance. Of course, he would have never came to me with this if it hadn’t been for Neil, who told Jeff he was purchasing tickets and asked if he wanted in on it. We’ve laughed, cheered and even shed a few tears after the ‘Hawks won the Cup. Gentlemen, now we finally have something to be happy about every June 9th. Thank you both for your support.

Now that I’ve gotten a bit sappy, I’d like to send out one more thank you to all of you readers and the 20,000 or so followers through the Droid and iPhone apps. None of the words I write would mean a damn thing if you didn’t stop by and read them.

Here’s to many, many more years at Blackhawk Up — and hopefully another Stanley Cup or two or ten.

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‘Hawks present negatives on Niemi hoping for positive outcome

I never understood the two-faced hilarity that is salary arbitration. The Blackhawks will tell a judge all the reasons they feel  Antti Niemi shouldn’t be compensated as he sees fit. Conversely, Niemi and his agent will explain why Niemi’s performance to date warrants a top-tier goaltender salary.

The ‘Hawks will attempt to prove why Niemi’s not worth the money, and Niemi’s agent will fight it. Yet the entire time, the Blackhawks want Niemi back wearing the Indian head — and from what we’re told, Niemi wants the same, but only for the right price.

It’s a back-and-forth process each side has dealt with since the Stanley Cup arrived back in Chicago. And today, we’ll finally get a ruling on what Niemi deserves — and doesn’t deserve. Either way, there will be countless overreactions to the judgment. People will cheer if the ‘Hawks win, and people will break shit if Niemi does. Neither reaction makes much sense.

As a sidenote, this is the reason I’ve stayed out of all this off-season salary cap shit. I haven’t posted here much because all I’d be doing is bitching about people whining over the Byfuglien and Versteeg trades and calling them their favorite players. Rather than crunch numbers or freak out about who will be the Blackhawks’ fourth-line center who can fit under the cap, I’ve been enjoying my Stanley Cup. I feel there should be a three-year grace period when you can’t bitch and complain about any move a franchise makes not involving a star player after winning a championship. I’m sick of hearing about all this crap. The Blackhawks just won the goddamn Stanley Cup. Enjoy it, shut up, and let the chips fall where they may.

If anyone believes the ‘Hawks go into today’s hearing with an offer of anything more than $2 million, they need to put the bong down. If anyone believes Niemi will present a demand of anything less than $3 million, they need to relinquish the crack pipe. Someone is leaving the hearing pissed off.

My guess? Start preparing for life without Niemi, ‘Hawks fans. I don’t see how this can work out. I would love to see Niemi back in net next season. It’s the best for both sides. But will I kill myself if Niemi is protecting another team’s goal on opening night? Hell no. There are viable options out there, mainly the constant rumor of  Marty Turco, who would come cheaper than Niemi.

No matter what happens, the Blackhawks will have a goalie good enough to play well behind one of the best defensive units in the NHL. Freak out about this hearing if you must, but it isn’t make or break for the ‘Hawks. It’s natural to get caught up in the names when your team wins a title. Problem is, I’m hearing too much of people worrying about the names of the since departed rather than what they actually brought to the table — which, sadly to say, is replaceable.

And the same goes for Antti Niemi.

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Really, Kovalchuk? 17 years?

17 years is a long time to be married.

Just for the record, the 17 years indeed does NOT relate to the amount of time he spent making this decision. It’s the number of years apparently agreed upon by the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk. Holy. Piss.

Remember when the league made a big, gigantic stink over contracts during last season’s free agency period? Marian Hossa’s  now-modest 12-year, $62.8 million deal makes the NHL look stupid for even looking into it. Kovalchuk’s deal is reportedly worth upwards of around $150 million.

At the conclusion of the reported contract, Kovalchuk will be 44 years old and heading into  Chris Chelios  territory while being tortured by the media and fans to just give it the hell up already. I’m wondering how much a team is going to enjoy a $7-9 million cap hit for a 44-year-old. Then again, Hossa won’t exactly be young by the time his Blackhawks contract is complete, so … whatever.

Either way, the ridiculous back-and-forth saga with the Los Angeles Kings is now over with after the Devils finally met the demands of a guy who is one hell of a player, but doesn’t deserve this contract. I’m sorry. I think he’s a great player and even hoped the ‘Hawks at one point would make a deal for him. But $150 million for nearly two decades? These are the kinds of contracts we expect to come out of MLB and NBA guys, not NHL guys. Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

The fact I’m writing about this, which is the first update in a week, shows how slow it’s been around Chicago pertaining to the ‘Hawks. Yeah, they signed  Jack Skille.  That’s great. Only 80 more guys to go with $7.92 in cap space. Rather than constantly write about shit you know and beat the hell out of a horse that’s been dead and buried for nearly a year now, I’ll wait until something of substance happens. Or I’ll just curse a lot to take the place of it.

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If Niemi’s price is too high for Hawks, which team shells out the cash?

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi hoists the Stanley Cup after his team defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final hockey series in Philadelphia June 9, 2010.   REUTERS/Shaun Best (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)

Capologists and ‘Hawks fans alike busted out the calculators in wake of  Niklas Hjalmarsson’s spankin’ new 4-year, $14 million contract thanks to those sore-loser San Jose Sharks. While the past few days may not have rivaled “The Decision,” a la  LeBron James, the ‘Hawks considered a looming variable: Keep Hammer, and risk losing Chicago’s first Stanley Cup-winning goaltender in 49 years.

It’s widely speculated  Jarslov Halak’s contract with the St. Louis Blues — coming in at a $3.75 million cap hit — will be a benchmark for  Antti Niemi’s award following his July 29 arbitration hearing. It’s obvious this may be the case, given that Neimi’s statistics are comparable to Halak’s numbers in relation to each player’s time served in the NHL and Niemi’s shiny new ring.

If the arbitrator rules Niemi deserves a similar salary, the Blackhawks have 48 hours to decide whether or not to accept the decision and pay him, or whether to lose exclusive negotiations and the right to simply match other offers and let him walk as an unrestricted free agent. In a strange twist of fate, working with the mentality  Cristobal Huet’s cap hit is buried in the minors, the latter may end up benefiting the Blackhawks — and here’s why.

Despite playoff success — which, of course, Niemi possess more of than Halak — the two goaltenders are vastly different in the eyes of NHL personnel and the fans they’re responsible for putting in the seats. Halak has star power in the public eye — he’s outspoken, animated at times on the ice and he greatly contributed to knocking out of the playoffs the two biggest stars in the game, Sidney Crosby and  Alexander Ovechkin.

It shouldn’t be a secret Halak’s image soared on a team of relatively unknowns and past-their-prime players as it slayed hockey giants. Halak was in demand as much for his star power as he was for his performance in 18 playoff games.

Niemi doesn’t have star power. He’s quiet, seemingly aloof and won’t be the main attraction for any paying fan. For as well as he played at times in the playoffs and in the regular season, he was regarded as the weak link on an otherwise stellar Blackhawks team. Though Halak’s playoff success carried him to his current popularity, Niemi’s resulted in a simple ho-hum. The view is the ‘Hawks won more in spite of Niemi rather than because of him.

Niemi just may be a better goaltender than Halak, and the arbitrator may feel he deserves Halak-like money, but no one is going to be kicking his door down to give it to him — including the Blackhawks. I’m not convinced even if if the Blackhawks had cap space to work with they’d shell out that type of money for him. If the Blackhawks don’t believe Niemi to be worth that type of money just yet, what’s to say other teams will be so willing to devote nearly $4 million per year to a goaltender with 27 regular season wins? Proven, yet aging, goaltenders like  Marty Turco are on the market at a discounted rate. The Blackhawks know that, too.

The Blackhawks view Niemi as a valuable asset, but not valuable enough to lose a second-tier defenseman to an in-conference power for what may turn out to be the same money. The ‘Hawks felt Hjalmarsson would be a bigger loss than Niemi, and they proved that by matching the Sharks’ offer sheet.

If the ‘Hawks allow Niemi to test unrestricted free agency, it may end up working in their favor. Which team goes after him at that price? Edmonton? Possibly Columbus considering  Steve Mason’s disaster-filled sophomore season? That would just put Niemi in another goaltender controversy. Ottawa? The options are thin. Even if any of these teams came after Niemi, will he take a larger paycheck and more pressure to carry a team which will rely on him for its success? Personally, I don’t even think a team is ready to make that commitment to him, no matter if he believes he’s ready for it or not.

Niemi’s best bet would be to return to a cushy situation in Chicago at a discounted rate, sit between the pipes behind stellar defensive units and be neither the savior nor the sore thumb. The ‘Hawks want Niemi back, but only if he fits into their cap plans — not only for this season, but for the future.

Bottom line, I’m not sure if we need to start worrying just yet whether or not the Blackhawks are going to end up losing  Brian Campbell and/or Patrick Sharp in order to clear space for Niemi’s pending arbitration ruling, as well as the rest of the restricted free agents needing deals just so the ‘Hawks can field a team next season.

If it comes down to it, the Blackhawks have made clear they’ll find a cheaper, suitable replacement for Niemi on the open market. My guess? Niemi ends up back with the Blackhawks for much less than we anticipatedbe it a contract agreement before the arbitration hearing, or once Niemi sees there’s no NHL team out there willing to shell out the cash for him.

With the way this off-season has gone, nothing is outside the realm of possibility.

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Blackhawks match Sharks’ $14 M offer sheet for Hjalmarsson

The Blackhawks made it official they will match the San Jose Sharks’ offer sheet for  Niklas Hjalmarsson  and sign him to a 4-year, $14 million contract. The cap it will be $3.5 million over the next four years.

Antti Niemi’s  arbitration date is set for July 29, and we’ll have to see if the ‘Hawks let him walk after the St. Louis Blues gave  Jaroslav Halak  a monster deal and set the bar pretty high for a goalie of Niemi’s comparable experience.

I’ll have more later on this decision and what it means for the ‘Hawks chances of keeping Niemi, or if they’ll be looking elsewhere for some goaltending.

Sharks ink Hjalmarsson to offer sheet

TSN.com is reporting Niklas Hjalmarsson signed a 4-year, $14 million offer sheet from the San Jose Sharks. I’m not sure about you, but a $3 million-plus offer is not what I expected — and I doubt the Blackhawks expected it, either.

The Blackhawks have seven days to match the offer sheet. With Antti Niemi awaiting a contract, this may be difficult to swing.

More details as they become available…

Prospect Camp

Well, the wedding season is here meaning I am out of town for the weekend attending the first of many this summer. If anyone is attending the prospect camp and would like to share their analysis, shoot me an email to jeffrey.bartl@gmail.com. I’ll post your write-up on the site and credit you however you please.

Have a great weekend!

Head on up to Lake Toews, where the locals bathe in victory

We have no idea where the lake will be located, but this one looks pleasant, eh?

Go ahead, dive in. You’ll immediately feel like a winner. Let’s just hope the bugs in Manitoba aren’t so big you’ll be naming them  John Scott.

Per Puck Daddy, the Canadian province will re-name one of it’s 400 million lakesafter Blackhawks captain  Jonathan Toews.  The damn kid has everything else, might as well give him his own body of water.

As dumb as I think all of this re-naming shit is after athletes for one reason or another, this is a hell of a lot better than some of the idiocy going on in Canada. For instance, an Edmonton couple recently named their child after No. 1 pick Taylor Hall, and two dipshits named their poor baby girl ‘Syd’ after  Sidney Crosby  scored the game-winning goal in the Olympics.

These people need to go wash off that stupidity in Lake Toews, where cleanliness is taken Captain Seriously.

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Stu Grimson remembers Probert: ‘Bob was both a friend and a foe’

The tragic passing of former Chicago Blackhawk and legendary enforcer  Bob Probert  brought out the soft side in some of his fondest sparring partners.

Ken Daneyko  referred to Probert as a “teddy bear” off the ice, and  Tie Domi  has spoken nothing but kind words since learning of Probert’s death. They shared his personal struggles and related to Probert, knowing Probert dropped the gloves far less times to throw fists on the ice than he did to wage wars with himself  off it.

Stu Grimson  needed some time to compose himself  after learing of Probert’s death, remembering Probert as a man he fought relentlessly during his career then developed a relationship with after hanging up the skates.

“Bob was both a friend and a foe,” Grimson said through e-mail from Nashville. “he was my fiercest rival on the ice, but I was able to get to know him more after we retired.”

The two bonded during a trip to Afghanistan when they visited Canadian troops a few years back.

“I was really fond of Bob,” Grimson said. “He was a great guy. The hockey family will miss him, though not nearly as much as his young family. This is tragic news.”

The Blackhawks honored Probert with a Heritage Night on February 22, 2009.

Here’s a video montage of some of Probert’s best fights. RIP, Bob.

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