Stan Bowman Addresses Antti Niemi's Arbitration Situation
"I wouldn't be doing my job if we weren't," Bowman said of potentially moving on from the goalie who led the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup championship in 49 years.
The NHL arbitration is unlike some sports in that the arbitrator does not have to choose one side's number or the other's. Otherwise, the Blackhawks already would have a good idea what they're looking at and they'd know whether they could afford Niemi if they lose the decision. Bowman explained that any number may be awarded between the two numbers.
After Saturday's ruling, Bowman said, the Blackhawks will have 48 hours to accept the awarded salary figure, trade the award number, or just let Niemi go entirely as a free agent, which might not be to Niemi's benefit, considering the glut of goalies this offseason.
There have been numerous estimates about how much the salary-cap challenged Blackhawks might be able to afford for Niemi, and it's largely considered that if he gets much more than double his $800,000 salary of last year, things might get tricky for Chicago, especially after Bowman said last week that Patrick Sharp is definitely staying.
That would suggest that the Blackhawks are strongly considering life without Niemi, but Bowman said Thursday that the team really just won't know until the figures come down.
"To be simplistic," he said, "it's going to depend on what the number is. Basically, our cap situation is tight, as is probably well documented. That will drive the boat. We have plans mapped out, strategies based on how to go, but it's hard to speculate on any of that."
Asked flat-out if the team has spoken to free-agent goalie Marty Turco, Bowman said only that "there are lots of goaltenders on the market we're evaluating. If we have to go down that road, we'll be prepared."
Bowman said that Thursday's proceedings were not at all contentious; the team recognizes Niemi's importance to the franchise, and defending an arbitration figure is just business. He said that goaltenders are a little more difficult when it comes to arbitration -- there are fewer of them to compare salaries with, and Niemi's career arc is unusual, which might also complicate the issue.
No matter what happens, Bowman said, "I'm confident we'll make it work for us, and we'll have a good team on the ice in October."
He pointed out that the nucleus of the team is back and is still young -- and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, even Brent Seabrook, will all be better with another year of experience.
Near the end of Bowman's conference call, he was asked if he thought San Jose might have intentionally pushed the Blackhawks into this position of potentially losing Niemi by signing Niklas Hjalmarsson to an offer sheet, which Chicago then matched.
Bowman didn't exactly shoot that notion down, saying, "I would totally be guessing. Doug Wilson would be in a better spot to answer. I've heard people say that as well, but it would probably be unfair to say, we haven't had any discussions about that."
Sharks general manager Wilson, reached by FanHouse on Thursday afternoon, said firmly, "Our sole purpose was to add a defenseman who would fit on our hockey team. We liked the player and we made a fair offer that fit in our salary structure."
Wilson declined to say more, but last month, he pointed out to FanHouse that signing a restricted free agent to an offer sheet is something that is allowed by the collective bargaining agreement and that such offers are always strictly business decisions, especially given the limitations of the salary cap. He pointed out that numerous clubs have signed players to offer sheets over the years, and it must be noted that the Blackhawks are among them.