With the move, Niemi becomes the eighth player jettisoned from the 2010 Stanley Cup champions. Replacement Marty Turco is cheaper, but we won't know until next spring if he is better than Niemi.
The Blackhawks are going to try to move on, and Niemi has no choice. He has a payday coming from someone.
But this late in the offseason, who is going to pony up and give Niemi the years and money he wants?
With a little help from Capgeek.com, let's take a look at some of the potential landing spots for Niemi.
They're probably the longest shot on the board, but can you imagine a better fit?
Yes, the Flyers would have to clear some money to make this happen, but they can't really be thinking of playing the season with Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher as their goalies, can they?
Leighton hasn't played more than 34 games in any NHL season (he has done that twice), and while he was great for a short stint in Philly last season, his 18-35-10 lifetime record outside of that run with the Flyers hardly inspires optimism.
Boucher is a journeyman backup at this point. It's a team screaming for a reliable starting goaltender.
Why not go get the one guy you couldn't beat in last year's playoffs?
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are expecting to improve this season. They fell like a rock from a franchise-first playoff appearance in the spring of 2009, failing to make any noise in the tough Central Division and ending up with the second-worst record in the Western Conference.
New coach Scott Arniel has some nice pieces up front and on defense, and there are some youngsters almost ready to make noise. But the Blue Jackets will go nowhere until they solve their goaltending conundrum.
Steve Mason had the ultimate sophomore slump last season, regressing all the way to the bench after a great rookie year. Mathieu Garon is likely not a long-term answer, so Columbus needs to figure out what they have in Mason.
Of course, if they sign Niemi, they won't have to worry that much about Mason. They have plenty of cap room, so it all depends on what they think of Mason. If the organization expects a bounce-back year, they'll give Mason as much confidence as they can. If they think he was a flash in the pan, they'd be wise to pursue Niemi.
From Niemi's standpoint, this isn't a Cup contender, but it is a team in Chicago's division, meaning six chances to take out any frustration over being let go by the champs.
Like Philadelphia, this is a longshot, but it's less because of the cap and more because of what appears to be the organization's thinking. The Capitals are a team that appears to believe in youngsters Michael Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov. It doesn't seem they're interested in hiding either player in the AHL any longer, as both look ready to play in the big league.
From a cap standpoint, Washington can make it work short-term, but it could get messy a few years out, as the Capitals are likely to have a lot of money committed to long-term deals. There will be some tough decisions to be made next summer among potential free agents.
For now, it appears Neuvirth and Varlamov are the guys in D.C., but things do change. If Niemi comes around seeking a one-year deal, he could be a great fit with the Capitals.
Yes, they let Jaroslav Halak go to St. Louis. But do the Canadiens really believe in Carey Price enough to make him the unquestioned starter? The signing of Alex Auld in early July makes it look that way, but the Canadiens might want to re-think things now that Niemi is free.
They're comfortably enough under the salary cap to make a move for him, and Price's track record would indicate that they should at least think about it.
Obviously, this move would be a blow to Price's confidence, and they might find themselves looking to trade him so he can get a fresh start somewhere else. In the end, though, with a chance to add a goalie who just won the Stanley Cup and has a bright future of his own, Montreal may be willing to re-think their strategy.
It may seem like a bad idea. After all, Edmonton has three goalies signed, one of whom was brought in last summer for a good chunk of money.
Why would they sink another chunk of cash in a goaltender?
Like Montreal, Edmonton thought they had a plan in net. Nikolai Khabibulin should be good to go, and Jeff Deslauriers might be a quality backup. Niemi is available now, though, and that should at least make someone in Alberta think.
Is it better to have Niemi as a long-term option, or continue to pay Khabibulin for a job he might not be up for anymore?
It all comes down to how the Oilers perceive themselves this season. Yes, they're going to play a lot of kids up front -- including top pick Taylor Hall. Yes, they're likely to have a poor season as a result.
But how much better could they be if they had Niemi around? Is he the kind of goalie who can help them get to March while still playing meaningful hockey?
It's a question Steve Tambellini would be smart to at least entertain.
While Niemi has options, they're limited by the salary cap and personnel decisions teams have already made. The eventual destination (Russia?) might not be on this list of five teams, but each of these organizations should -- for good reason -- at least make a phone call about this latest development in the NHL's weird summer.