Ruling means Hawks can fit in Niemi

The clock is ticking on the Blackhawks now. And the arbitrator has made their decision a little bit easier.

Antti Niemi’s $2.75 million salary for next season is right at the Hawks’ tipping point, but it’s a number they can manage. It’s a favorable decision for them but it doesn’t completely solve their salary cap problems. League sources say the Hawks’ “bid” wasn’t too much lower than the final figure while Niemi’s camp was looking for something between $3-4 million.

Depending on how many players they keep on the roster to open the season and how much of a cushion they allow for injuries, the Hawks likely need to make some minor moves to fit in Niemi -- if they want to.

Either way, at that price, it’s highly doubtful the Hawks would walk away from the ruling and they have plenty of time to figure out their cap woes. They need to be under the $59.4 million NHL salary cap by the start of the season in October.

More than likely, the arbitrator looked at the St. Louis BluesJaroslav Halak’s 2010-11 salary -- which is also $2.75 million -- and decided Niemi is worth about the same.

If Niemi plays for the Hawks this season, expect it to be his last. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent next year and after winning the Stanley Cup, having to prove himself again probably won’t sit well with his camp. Plus, a decent season will put him in line for another raise which would put the Hawks right back in the situation they are in now.

The bottom line is the Hawks can afford to keep their goalie, but how much of a priority they make him is something we’ll find out very soon.