Antti Niemi and his agent Bill Zito met with the Blackhawks in Toronto to plead their respective cases in front of an arbitrator because they were unable to come to an agreement before yesterday’s hearing. A ruling is expected to be made on Saturday. From what I’ve been reading Niemi’s camp has their hearts set on a number above a $3 million cap hit. Knowing the Blackhawks’ cap situation, it becomes hard to believe all the rhetoric that Zito fed the media regarding his client’s desire to play for Chicago next season.
In Stan Bowman’s conference call earlier in the evening, he said:
“Depending on where it comes in, it’s going to dictate what we have to do. We’re going to try to make it work, but it’s hard – we’re kind of playing a guessing game and I don’t want to speculate because I don’t know where it’s going to be.
“There are numbers that we have in mind which would make it more easy to fit him in versus really difficult to fit him in. We’re just going to have to wait and see.”
The impartial arbitrator will have to either pick the number the Blackhawks submitted, the number Niemi’s camp submitted or choose a salary somewhere in between. If the arbitrator sides in favor of the 26-year-old goaltender, it will likely force Bowman and company to move on. The Blackhawks will have 48 hours to sign Niemi, trade him or walk, thus making him an unrestricted free agent.
Anything above a $2.5 million cap hit could be detrimental to the Blackhawks ability to field a roster of twenty skaters and two goaltenders. It wouldn’t surprise me if Bowman had deals already in place if Niemi’s price tag is too high. There have been rumors floating around that Bowman has already talked to Jose Theodore and Marty Turco, and that suitors have called regarding Niemi’s availability. In one last-ditch-effort to keep their goaltender around, the Blackhawks could move Tomas Kopecky and his $1.2 million cap hit.