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Gap doesn't bode well for Hawks, Niemi

8/1/2010
The Blackhawks might decide to accept the arbiter's ruling and then trade Antti Niemi soon. Barbara Johnston/US Presswire

New information about Antti Niemi's arbitration hearing has emerged since the decision was reported, and its implications don’t bode well for the Hawks netminder.

Sources familiar with the hearing say the Chicago Blackhawks gave the arbiter a figure of only $1.5 million, while Niemi’s camp countered with $4 million. The arbiter basically split the difference by awarding Niemi $2.75 million for the upcoming season.

It means the Hawks were hoping for and most likely planning to keep Niemi if the arbiter came in with a figure closer to their $1.5 million. At $2.75 million, the Hawks still can work Niemi onto their roster but only if other salaries are shed.

The bottom line is their intentions to keep him are most likely visible in their pitch to the arbiter. Hoping for an incredibly favorable decision seems about the only way Niemi would stay, unless the Hawks brass changes its mind and prioritizes him over some smaller or bigger names.

The most likely scenario is for the Hawks to accept the award and then trade Niemi before the season, maybe as soon as next week. If they want to do their Stanley Cup-winning goaltender a favor, they might walk away from the decision, making him an unrestricted free agent. That would allow him to sign a multiyear deal instead of playing under the arbiter’s decision for a one-year deal. This is less likely to happen, as the Hawks would get nothing for him.

The day started out looking like a win for the Hawks and their fans, but it ended with the same ominous feeling about Niemi: He’ll probably play hockey somewhere else next season. There is hope, but it's slim.