Crawford in similar spot as Niemi last year

March, 1, 2011
3/01/11
2:29
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Corey CrawfordDilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesThe Hawks aren't likely to let Corey Crawford walk after losing Antti Niemi last year.
It's been a busy few days in the NHL, and for the Chicago Blackhawks. In the midst of their best run of the season, we'll examine -- in several blog posts -- the moves and ramifications.

We'll start with Tuesday's news that former Hawks net minder Antti Niemi signed a four-year extension with San Jose. What does that mean for current Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford?

Former Hawks continue to see the money they would never have received if they were still in town.

The latest is Niemi, who signed a four-year, $15.2 million deal with the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. He follows Dustin Byfuglien, who signed a $26 million deal with Atlanta last month, while Andrew Ladd of the Thrashers is rumored to be close to a new deal.

With Jimmy Howard of the Red Wings recently signing a two-year extension worth $2.25 million per year, the market place is starting to take shape for Crawford.

Crawford is a restricted free agent at year's end, and to this point the similarities between him and Niemi are striking. Crawford is 26, one year away from unrestricted free agency, just as Niemi was last year. Crawford currently makes $850,000, very close to Niemi's $827,000 of a year ago.

So what does Crawford deserve knowing what we know right now?

He's arbitration eligible, just as Niemi was, and his figure won't be too much lower than Niemi's $2.75 million arbitration ruling that paved Niemi's way out of town.

Say both sides think Crawford's number will come in around $2.5 million, then that's a starting point for negotiations. The Hawks will claim they don't have that type of money, but will offer security instead. Maybe 4-5 years, or longer, averaging closer to $2 million but possibly front loaded in his actual pay check. Maybe they decide he's their guy through thick and thin and give him a decade long deal and really reduce the salary cap hit. In the end, his numbers should come close to Howard, who's been in the league one year longer.

Monetarily, the Hawks are in no better shape this coming offseason than they were last year. Yes, the cap might go up a little and some bonuses come off the books, along with a few smaller contracts, but Brent Seabrook's raise kicks in to make up for some of that.

So could Crawford end up leaving like Niemi?

Its doubtful, for one simple reason: the Hawks will make him a priority. They'll move money around and make sure they get the right deal in place to keep him.

Bringing this full circle, it's exactly what they didn't do for Niemi last summer. They chose Niklas Hjalmarsson over him after doling out huge contracts to the likes of Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Niemi and his agent, Bill Zito, were criticized last offseason while being called "greedy" for not accepting a lower figure to stay with the Hawks.

"It was a bit frustrating, but I understand the fans didn't have the full truth," Zito said on Tuesday. "I don't have to feel vindicated, because I work for Antti and he knew what was going on every step of the way and was fully appraised of our plan. We sat down and put together a plan and executed the plan."

Tuesday's signing was a result of that planning. Fortunately, Niemi and the Sharks recovered from a slow start for it to all come together. Niemi was named the NHL's second star for the month of February.

Now it just has to come together for Crawford, or the Hawks could lose two stellar, rookie net minders in consecutive years. Smart money says it won't happen again.

Jesse Rogers | email

Chicago Cubs beat reporter
Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers the Chicago Cubs for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Patrick Sharp
PTS GOALS AST +/-
4 2 2 0
OTHER LEADERS
GoalsP. Sharp 2
AssistsJ. Toews 3
+/-J. Oduya 5
GAAC. Crawford 1.66