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Niemi's arbitration split-decision is better than expected news for Blackhawks

Jul 31, 2010, 11:53 PM EDT

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anttiniemi5.jpgWhile the Chicago Blackhawks have to be somewhat happy with how goaltender Antti Niemi’s arbitration case turned out today, rewarding him $2.75 million, finding out about where each side was hoping to end up in the grand scheme of things salary-wise is a curious matter. Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago checks in to tell us that the Blackhawks were looking for a cap-saving amount while Antti Niemi was hoping to be paid like a Stanley Cup-winning goalie.

Sources familiar with the hearing say the Chicago Blackhawks gave the arbitrator a figure of only $1.5 million while Niemi’s camp countered with $4 million. The arbiter basically split the difference by awarding Niemi $2.75 million for the upcoming season.

It means the Hawks were hoping for and most likely planning to keep Niemi if the arbitrator came in with a figure closer to their $1.5 million. At $2.75 million, the Hawks can still work Niemi on to their roster but only if other salaries are shed.

Clearly the Hawks’ intent was to keep the price reasonable and retain Antti Niemi so they don’t have to do any further roster shuffling. While I doubt Niemi’s intent was to put the Blackhawks over a barrel with what he wanted, you can’t really blame a guy going for the gusto like that with the demand.

The Blackhawks may have been setting their salary request to be based around Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask who makes $1.25 million. One player that you could say is a nearly identical contemporary of Antti Niemi is Jaroslav Halak and the Blues gave him a four-year deal worth $3.75 million a year. It’s fascinating to see that the goalie who helped his team win the Stanley Cup scores a contract worth a million dollars less. Perhaps the Blackhawks will send a fruit basket to the arbitrator for that gift or just be thankful they didn’t end up getting the arbitrator in Clarke MacArthur’s case.

As for what the Blackhawks could do to stay under the cap, Blackhawks blog Hockee Night toyed around with the Cap Geek calculator and came up with a cap-fitting starting roster of 20 players. If that works out, Chicago will have to start investing in lucky charms and voodoo to make sure the team stays healthy all year long.

It’s interesting to note that the arbitrator in Niemi’s case was also the same one who handled Blake Wheeler’s arbitration as well and both of them got reasonable, team-friendly deals. It’s also worth noting that both the Bruins and Blackhawks were looking at possibly having to make major roster moves if either of those cases fell more in favor of what the players wanted. And you wonder why we have conspiracy theorists in the NHL, you see things like this and you can’t help but wonder if these things aren’t exactly a coincidence. As it is, the arbitrator split the difference between the demands and that shouldn’t be too alarming but we all know how these things go, let’s just hope the appropriate parties have enough tinfoil for their hats.

The Blackhawks have until Monday to decide if they’ll accept Niemi’s decision. One way or the other, a roster move of some variety will be made to accommodate any action the Hawks take. The Great Chicago Fire Sale of 2010 isn’t quite over yet.

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