Blackhawks

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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Byfuglien, Eager, Sopel traded to Atlanta for picks

Per Jesse Rogers, in the first of what may be many salary cap-related trades, Stan Bowman  sent  Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel  and  Ben Eager  to the Atlanta Thrashers for a first- and second-round pick.

More details later as they come in, along with analysis.

UPDATE:  ‘Hawks receiving the 24th and 54th overall picks in Friday’s draft, plus prospect Jeremy Morin and veteran Marty Reasoner.

ANOTHER UPDATE:  ‘Hawks prospect  Akim Aliu  is included in the deal.

With the 30th pick, the Chicago Blackhawks select…

Tyler Toffoli, C, from the Ottawa 67s of the OHL.

The first-ever FanSided NHL Mock Draft will be posted today on the network’s new general NHL blog, Too Many Men On The Site. Be sure to check it out as you prepare for Friday.

From the start, I hoped Toffoli would last this long — and he also may be there at 30 for the actual NHL Draft. If so, the Blackhawks would be wise to take him for a few different reasons.

Toffoli is a raw talent. I watched him play when the NHL Network ran some OHL games and I saw a kid who has a lot of potential but is nowhere near NHL-ready — which is just fine, given the status of the Blackhawks farm system. There’s good depth at the forward position, plus enough prospects at defense giving the ‘Hawks the luxury of taking a chance on a raw, talented player like Toffoli.

Akim Aliu, Evan Brophy, Nathan Davis, Bryan Bickell, Jake Dowell, etc., will be NHL regulars before Toffoli, giving Toffoli time to develop his game. The general consensus on Toffoli from scouting reports says he’s not particularly stellar at any given aspect. What he has is a natural ability to score.

Toffoli came in ranked from 15 to 20 before the previous season began. His draft stock dipped a bit because of a horrible start to the year. But Toffoli bounced back to 79 points (37A, 42 G) in 65 games in the OHL.

If Toffoli is availabe at 30, it could be a steal for the Blackhawks. He’d be entering the NHL with more refined skills — He just turned 18 — by the time Jonathan Toews  and  Patrick Kane  are in the middle of their extensions.

The draft is Friday from Los Angeles and will be televised on NHL Network. Let’s find out if I’m right.

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Blackhawks Theater: Jackie Moon as John McDonough

NOTE: In every sports-themed movie, each character plays a distinctive role for their fictional squad. Blackhawks Theather will compare those characters and their roles with those of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. This segment will run each and every day for the next month at 10 a.m. CST. That should keep us all busy up to and throughout the Capocalypse. Enjoy.

Though you won’t see  John McDonough wrestling a bear anytime soon, his PR savvy and built-in knowledge to sell his product have led to over 100 consecutive sellouts at the United Center and counting.

McDonough’s promotions are far less shady than those of  Jackie Moon’s (Semi Pro), but each had a goal in mind: Drive up attendance and resurrect a dormant franchise to relevance. McDonough succeeded in a difficult task to mend strained relationships with Blackhawk greats like  Bobby Hull and brought them back for a multitude of  Heritage Nights, which the fans ate up.

Just like Moon’s Flint Tropics proved, winning sure does help. McDonough’s been criticized for his constant desire to be in the spotlight. It’s even been joked about on certain blogs that McDonough was going to throw another parade to celebrate the victory parade. But no one can doubt McDonough’s genius in making the ‘Hawks a fan-friendly franchise — something rarely experienced during the  Bill Wirtz years.

Both Moon and McDonough pulled out all the stops to get their respective franchise noticed. Let’s just hope McDonough doesn’t try and sing “Love Me Sexy.”

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Blackhawks Theater: Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh as Patrick Kane

NOTE: In every sports-themed movie, each character plays a distinctive role for their fictional squad. Blackhawks Theather will compare those characters and their roles with those of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. This segment will run each and every day for the next month at 10 a.m. CST. That should keep us all busy up to and throughout the Capocalypse. Enjoy.

At their age, the amount of talent possessed by each of these wunderkinds stopped people in their tracks to catch a glimpse. And like many young talents with money and fame coming so quickly, the ego and sense of invincibility took over at times.

No one every questioned the potential of Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Bull Durham). The kid threw 100 m.p.h and could strike out any hitter at any given time. Lack direction, his ego led to a bar fight with a veteran over a woman and his sexual escapades became more important to him than his control. He struggled in the face of having to tone down his attitude and ego with some direction, and eventually “Nuke” ended up in The Show, knowing exactly what to say when confronted by the media.

Patrick Kane draws a parallel. His off-season arrest for a confrontation with a Buffalo cab driver humbled him to the podium in front of his toughest critics to deliver an emotionless speech before USA training camp. If that wasn’t enough of a lesson, photos surfaced of Kane and teammates with their shirts off partying in a limo in Vancouver. Once again, he was forced to explain himself.

Sometimes we all forget athletes are human beings, too. If I was asked to tell stories of my days as a 21-year-old single male to people ready to make judgments, my presence would be banned in 30 states. The spotlight thrust the lives of “Nuke” and Kane into the public eye, and they struggled coming to grips with it.

The main comparison? Both “Nuke” and Kane succeeded and reached their ultimate goal — “Nuke” to The Majors, Kane winning the Stanley Cup. Maybe a little shit storm when you’re young isn’t all that bad.

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