Pre-season hockey has begun and the Blackhawks roster has a bit of a different look to it. The team won the 2010 Stanley Cup Championship and immediately after the celebrating began, the team had to be dismantled. Now before anyone gets crazy and thinks this is a situation like the Florida Marlins went through in 2003 where the owner purposely dismantled his championship team. This was a situation where this dirty little thing called a Salary Cap required that ownership shed salary, which meant a lot of players were going to have to leave the team. Some of the notable names gone from the roster include Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, and Brent Sopel. These guys were traded. Also leaving were Adam Burish through free agency and the beloved Antii Niemi.
For many Blackhawks fans, the leaving of Antii Niemi was especially painful because it seemed to take forever to solidify the goalie position, which is the most important position and oh, HE WON A STANLEY CUP! The main reason Niemi ended up leaving was because the San Jose Sharks made an offer sheet to Niklas Hjalmarsson. This was huge because The Hammer, as Nik is known is a really good young defenseman that the Blackhawks couldn’t really afford to lose. Because there was the offer sheet, the Hawks either had to match or let The Hammer walk. Once that happened, and Niemi was going to arbitration for a higher salary, it was pretty much a situation where he might be all but gone because of the salary cap crunch. This was more a problem because of the amount of money that was awarded to Halak in arbitration and he didn’t even get to the Stanley Cup finals. Well, the arbitrator made an award to Niemi of roughly $2.5M and given that number the Blackhawks decided to just walk away. This was ok for them becuase of following the Detroit Red Wings model of having an adequate goalie with really good defense in front to not have your goalie be a liability.
In some ways, I think that Niemi and his agent miscalculated his worth by going to arbitration now and in all honestly, Niemi was good, but in my opinion, not so great that he deserved what he was looking for in terms of salary. Ironically, San Jose did sign Niemi because they let their goalie, Evgenie Nabokov go (he is now back in Russia) and Niemi is once again in a battle for the starting goalie job.
So far, I am feeling ok about the reconstituted Blackhawks. We have Marty Turco in goal, who is someone that people wanted to trade for at the deadline last season and the core of the team (Kaner! Keith, Toewes, Seabrook) is still here.
But most importantly, THANK YOU 2009 – 2010 CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS for bringing the Stanley Cup back to Chicago. It will be weird seeing some of the guys who helped do this on other teams this season, but I am looking forward to the 2010 – 2011 season. Go Blackhawks.