Survey says--Niemi should settle for 4 years, $12 million with Blackhawks

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.

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  • Mike, I know Jerry Kayne is always right, but Jerry knows, and I know, and anyone who's in the know, knows, that YOU'RE right.

    About Handy Andy. Among other things.

    As for Andy, 'the nose knows', and Andy is not only handy, he has a nose for the net, or more properly, keeping pucks out when it matters most.

    He reminds me a little of Tony O in his weird style, except he looks like a plumber and Tony looked like the guy who ran the restaurant where the made guys hung out.

    If Andy wants three large for three years, I'm sort of okay with that.

    I'd be more okay with 2 for two. Who knows what a goalie will do from year to year, and it seems the more you pay them, the more likely a puck patroller wilts under the weight of all that cash in his hockey pants.

  • In reply to DaveMorris:

    2 for 2 sounds awfully conservative. You're just channeling your inner Bob Pulford.

  • In reply to JMKiley:

    Mike, you're right. My inner Bob Pulford may be taking over, in fact.

    But if Mister Zito tries to pull a fast one, maybe StanBow signs...hold your breath...Mean Gene Nabokov.

    Wouldn't that be weird?

  • In reply to DaveMorris:

    Niemi only proved one thing. He can win 95% of games when there's 30 or less shots over a short season. He also showed grace under (extreme) pressure.

    Thanks to the Hawks system, he was never time-tested. He's unproven as to what his season-long fatigue level may be.

    Mike, I wanted to swing your way on the 3-for-4 and wouldn't argue if that's the way it unfolded. But I say no no Niemi and make it a 2 year contract. He did not play at an elite goalie level and is still an unproven entity. He should be paid as comparables suggest. Who's a comparable? No one.

    The Hawks will have to set the pace for this contract sending another message through the NHL. Start shaking in your boots Turco & Nabakov. The Hawks should continue to lower the value in dollars of the goalie position. They need to prove their worth like every other position player.

    Sorry Dave, some days I can be unpredictable.

  • In reply to JerryManderings:

    Jerry, you could be right.

    On the other hand, Jumpin Gene has jumped to the KHL.

    Would Niemi now say "No-no" if StanBow tried to go too low?

    Because the alternative might be Turco or Theo.

  • In reply to JerryManderings:

    "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." -

    Well, considering Hjalmarsson just signed a 4 year, $14 million offer sheet from the Sharks, it looks like one of them will indeed be gone. Thank you NHL for that stellar salary cap.

  • In reply to borg:

    Borg,

    This is why I made the comment right after the Keith/Kane/Toews deals that the Hawks need to get this guy signed asap. This should have never gotten this far. Now for the conundrum. If you pay Nik 3.5 million per season, what is Seebrook worth if the Hawks let him get to RFA next summer?

  • In reply to beaverwarrior:

    "We feel Niklas is a top-three defenseman in the National Hockey League," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. "We saw his abilities first-hand in the playoffs last season and he was an important piece of a Stanley Cup-winning team. He is a solid player that would be a good fit on our team now and in the future."

    All the reasons to keep him. If the Hawks can get Niemi for $2 mil keep them both. Otherwise it's a no-brainer to keep Hjammer.

  • In reply to JerryManderings:

    Bowman needs to keep his trap shut. First he says the team doesn't need to make more moves, then trades Ladd and Versteeg two days later. Now Hjalmarsson gets an offer sheet a week after Bowman says that wasn't likely because teams do go that route anymore.

  • In reply to DaveMorris:

    To be fair, there are many players on the team who I want, but could see living without. Sorry, but Kane is one of those guys, so is Hossa and many others. I also believe that Kane is already a tremendous offensive force and will get better. I was the first Niemi supporter, besides his parents and I spoke loudly at the beginning of the season about the things that I saw in him. He is a strong goaltender and made many rookie mistakes this year. He will get better. That doesn't mean that another goaltender can't do as well for less money.
    But, and this is a huge BUT, he helped bring a cup to Chicago. He flat out won a series for the Hawks, against the maybe the hardest competition left in the playoffs, and yes, he should get payed for it. That doesn't mean we sign him no matter what. Sharp gave a huge contribution to the Hawks winning the cup as well as Bolland. Both of them are in the 3 mil range. It is a team effort to bring a cup home and the salaries should start looking that way. Campbell salaries should be a thing of the past.
    I am inclined to agree with Mike's analysis, but I also think Niemi has been tested enough to completely believe in. Huet talk should become nonexistent in this city. No way he puts a Hawks uniform on, Khabi was a completely different story. I see no reason not to have Crawford back up Niemi for a year, or at least the start of the year and see what happens. Hjammer is still the most important signing though.

  • In reply to DaveMorris:

    Survey says, "Follow the trend, 'Hawks." Niemi is due for a raise, unquestionably. But if you look around the league, most GMs aren't ready to dish out big dollars to the goalie position. It goes beyond the Leighton contract like you mentioned Mike. Look at Dan Ellis, Jonathan Quick, Antero Niittymaki, and Chris Mason all taking offer sheets under $2 million. If they don't take it, there is a good chance they don't play next year in the NHL. Guys like Nabokov and Turco, too, will need to cut their prices otherwise they will be playing overseas. There are a few exceptions, namely Halak; the Blues are still following the old model of paying big for a goalie, but they also didn't want to lose him to free agency and not get anything in return for him. Goalies left on the market need to start looking at the market situation: name 4 teams that are a "great" goalie away from winning the Stanley Cup and have the cap space to spend %4-5 million on that position? 2 teams that arguably are just signed guys for under $2 million. As for Niemi, I have a feeling the 'Hawks are going to come out ahead should they not reach an agreement come late July. But then again, he had to file in order to continue negotiations not because they aren't seeing eye to eye, right? However, I think based the objective criteria arbitration uses to determine value, could really hurt Niemi's value, should it get that far. I know ever one will say, "he won the Cup, and Cup winning goalies go for way more than two million," but I think we are looking at a different league, now. The past 3 of 4 Cup winners were young, "value" goalies, and teams know they don't need to spend the money on a big name to give themselves a chance at the cup. 2000-2010 proved that. Niemi and Leighton made slightly greater than $1.6 million, combined, and both beat some of the greatest names and highest paid goalies along the way: Nabokov, Luongo, and Brodeur.

    So...even if the arbitration hearing does heavily favor Niemi, meaning they grant him somewhere in the $3-4 million range, I don't think you're going see him in a 'Hawks uniform, or in the NHL, next season. Teams just aren't willing to fork over that amount of cash unless it's for a short term deal. Even four years is too long at that rate. I'd imagine that Niemi is going to be playing on a short-term contract if he's in a 'Hawks uni; 1-2 years at a rate of roughly $2 million dollars. I have a feeling the 'Hawks, mostly Rocky Wirtz, are going to have commitment issues with any long-term deal on that position. Goalie Alec Richards, 6'-4"/210, is a solid season away from turning pro. I am sure this kid is playing into their long-term plans.

    Just my two-cents.

  • You want him, but could see living without him. I think you have hit on a pretty realistic scenario. But unless Niemi kicks up his heels at the behest of Scott Boras..oh, sorry, Bill Zito...the two sides should be able to agree to agree on reason above all. That's means, as always, somewhere in the middle.

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