Monday, 2 August 2010

Chicago Continues To Purge

While Chicago had a very good team last season as they left the other 29 teams in their wake en route to the Stanley Cup, there was a lot of concern about how they would keep all of their good, young talent within the salary cap. After a few management blunders, it was obvious that they were not going to be able to keep this team together for very long. Antti Niemi, pictured to the left, was one of the reasons this team was very good down the stretch last season, but he won't be wearing a Blackhawks jersey next season. After being awarded just shy of $3 million annually, the Blackhawks opted to walk away from Niemi's services despite leading the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup.

While the Hawks did go out and sign Marty Turco to a contract, it will be interesting to see where Niemi lands. He's a solid, young goaltender, but is saddled with big success in a limited amount of time. I'm not saying he will be the next Jim Carey or Felix Potvin, but Niemi's success can partly be attributed to the Blackhawks solid defensive unit last season. Yes, he still had to stop the pucks, but the Hawks' blueliners gave him a ton of help.

Where will he end up? No clue at this point, although some think that Washington is a great fit. I don't think that he will do well in Washington, and the Capitals are pretty amped about their two horses in Varlamov and Neuwirth. Some have said San Jose, but I think they're pretty set with Niittymaki and Greiss. In truth, there could be as many as five more teams vying for his services at $2.75 million per season.

Another option for the former Blackhawk netminder would be the KHL. Niemi is Finnish, so the jump to Russia isn't that far from his home country, and it would be a major coup for the KHL to have the reigning Stanley Cup Champion goaltender playing in their league. The arbitration number at that point would fly out the window, and Niemi could be signed for more or less, but there's no doubt that Niemi's price tag would be around $3 million per if he was to sign in Russia.

All in all, this is the eighth player from the NHL's defending Stanley Cup Champion to find a new home this summer. That's more than one-third of their roster which, for all intents and purposes, would signify a rebuild if it weren't for the established talent on the Hawks' roster. The core gorup of players are still intact, though, so this team has the raw ability to compete. But when paring down rosters to their raw talent, it's normally the role players and depth guys that play a huge role.

For instance, Andrew Ladd, who was moved to Atlanta from the Blackhawks this off-season, has been a winner where ever he has landed. Ladd scores big goals, checks like a demon, and plays the game with an edge. He is twice won the Stanley Cup, and provides character and grit. Ladd's intangibles are hard to find in a younger player who may not have the same drive as Ladd.

Will Chicago be good next year? Most likely. They may not experience the same success as this year through the regular season, but it appears that they will be on-track for another Stanley Cup Playoff berth. However, the loss of a major piece of the puzzle in Antti Niemi, the goaltender who led the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup in 49 years, may prove to be huge.

On the other hand, Marty Turco might just make everyone forget about Niemi's success if he can lead Chicago to the Promised Land once again.

Just as an aside, I'll address the late posts from this weekend on Tuesday's post. It appears I was a little insane in setting times and dates for the posts to appear. Someone - me - was in holiday-mode long before they started.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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