In 2005, Nikolai Khabibulin signed with the Blackhawks for four years, $27 million.
That was after he played in 55 regular-season games for Tampa Bay and went 28-19-7 with three shutouts, a .233 GAA and a .910 save percentage.
He followed that with a 16-7 playoff record, including five shutouts, a 1.71 GAA and a championship. He was 32 years old coming to Chicago and would play a total of 15 postseason games here (all from ’08-’09) at 8-6 with a 2.93, .917.
In 2008, Cristobal Huet signed with Chicago for four years, $22.4 million.
That was after he played in 13 games down the stretch for the Washington Capitals and went 11-2 in ’07-’08 with a 1.63 GAA and .936 save percentage.
He followed that with a 3-4 record in seven playoff games and a 2.90 GAA and .909 save percentage. He turned 33 in September of 2008 and would play four more postseason games for Chicago with a 1-2 record.
Let’s reassess. Almost $50 million combined committed to Khabibulin and Huet for the last six years and all for a combined postseason record in Chicago of 9-8. Doesn’t add up, does it?
In July/August this year, Antti Niemi, 27 next month, signed for….
Well, I would guess four years might remain the going rate for a Hawks goalie.
Anybody worried at all about continuing a string of four-year contracts with goalies, considering how the last two have worked out? Maybe we need to go to three years or five years just to bust the cycle.
The difference this time is the Hawks expected Khabibulin and Huet to win the title and paid them up front. Niemi won the title and wants to be paid for his work in doing so.
The fact that Niemi is among 31 NHLers filing for salary arbitration does prompt the question of how differently his agent, Bill Zito, and the Hawks view the gap between Niemi, a Stanley Cup-winning hero, and Niemi, that guy who has yet to be asked to play a full season in the NHL.
In a perfect world without salary comparisons and so on to drive figures, Niemi deserves somewhere around 3 million a year. How about 4 years, $12 million?
Sounds about right without crunching all the numbers and such that Zito is paid handsomely to do on behalf of his client.
How about 4 years, $16-$20 million, which could be closer to where Zito wants a deal done. He may be asking for 6 to 8 years for all I know. Sounds excessive.
Let’s look at it. Six years, $24 million.
Just looking at it gives the appearance of queasiness.
Strikes me as too much commitment. For a guy I like. For a guy I boosted earlier than some. For a guy that still has to prove himself.
Everyone wants Niemi back, but it has to be reasonable. With a goalie glut out there, making one more bad deal with a goalie will be one too many.
Hawks GM Stan Bowman has assured us Niemi and defenseman Nik Hjalmarsson are in absolutely no danger of leaving Chicago. He has plans to keep them. Good.
Doing so with no harsh words exchanged back and forth is the best possible way. And since the Hawks control their public-relations image tightly, it seems very likely there will be no public firestorm when Niemi says this and the Hawks say that.
Of course, that’s provided Niemi says anything, which he probably won’t.
As we know from the season, Niemi says as little as possible. The Hawks like it that way, especially when the sides could be quite a bit apart in negotiations.
You have to believe the boat has already sailed on Huet’s Chicago career. Until he’s well down the river and off the books, however, Huet technically remains a fallback position for the Hawks with Niemi’s negotiations.
Let’s remember when Khabibulin was considered yesterday’s new when the Hawks signed Huet. Khabibulin survived reports of his death, beating perceptions that his day was done in Chicago.
Do you jettison Huet on the same day you sign Niemi?
Solve the Niemi problem and it brings up another? Who’s his backup. Ideally, it would be a veteran goalie. But veteran goalies don’t come cheap, either, and at this point the salary cap squeeze remains and it’s hard to predict how the Hawk brass chooses to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.
Everyone knows Niemi was outstanding at times. Everyone knows Niemi was just OK other times, including the playoffs when he did what he had to do, even if that came with criticism for what a bad goalie matchup it was against Philadelphia’s Michael Leighton.
Leighton signed a 2-year, $3.1 million deal for losing to Niemi. So if the guy that’s kicked around a long time with minimal success can get basically $1.5 a year, the guy who wins should get at least twice that.
$3 million a year for four years is twice that on both accounts.
Does Niemi deserve more? No, not really. But he will be trying to get more. We know that.
Just the American way of life. His English may be limited. But the Finn surely understands the finer points of the American way of life.
Such as, where’s mine? Plenty of time later to talk about the team concept and how we have one goal.
Right now it’s every man for himself. And Niemi likes the idea that money talks, absolving him of the need to do so.