July 20, 2010
So general manager Stan Bowman took the rare step — OK, rare for an executive who's said goodbye to more players this offseason than the bouncer at a Tampa strip club — in giving his versatile center a reassurance that he won't be Byfuglien'd.
''I saw Sharpy in the office [Monday]; he stopped by,'' Bowman said before the premiere of the Hawks' Stanley Cup DVD at Navy Pier. ''I told him he can relax. He's not going anywhere. He's a big part of this. He means a lot to us on the ice and off the ice.''
No kidding. For all the afterglow of the Stanley Cup championship, the loss of Kris Versteeg(notes) and Dustin Byfuglien(notes) and Patrick Sharp would have been like a "Mortal Kombat" three-hit combo to the fan base's jaw. Jettisoning all three players may have been an economic necessity, but there's no way the fans wouldn't have seen blood on the hands of Blackhawks management due to its own mismanagement.
Bowman on that cap conundrum: "As of right now we don't have a solution."
We've talked before about how the Niemi negotiation is a fascinating one. He's a player with 37 regular season starts ... and a Stanley Cup ring. He won the starting job for Chicago last season, yet is Niemi a goalie to whom the Blackhawks want to commit long-term in order to massage a cap hit?
From the Chicago Tribune, the latest on Niemi and the Blackhawks:
Bowman said he spoke with Niemi's agent, Bill Zito, on Monday and it's still possible a deal will be made before the goalie's arbitration hearing July 29. The team could sign Niemi before the hearing or let an arbitrator set the price for the goalie who helped lead the Hawks to their first Stanley Cup championship in 49 years and is in line for a substantial raise from his $826,875 salary of last season.
The team could also walk away from the decision and let Niemi go as an unrestricted free agent. With the Hawks already up against the cap and needing to sign more players, if Niemi is brought back it's likely another player would have to be traded.
Tim Sassone of the Daily Herald makes a few very salient points on his blog about this issue: Like the fact that goalies such as Marty Turco(notes) and Jose Theodore(notes) remain available and will cost pennies on the dollar compared to Niemi; and the fact that, if they choose to walk away from an arbitration case with Niemi, there's actually a chance the Blackhawks could see him leave for a team that has cap room and the need for another goaltender.
Like, for instance, San Jose. Whose offer sheet would have, in theory, forced the Blackhawks to part with Niemi. That's some Machiavellian [expletive] right there.
Prediction: Niemi re-signs with the Blackhawks ahead of his arbitration hearing, but they still trade away another body. Using Cap Geek's incredible new Flash-based cap calculator, if Niemi gets a $2.5 million annual hit, then burying Cristobal Huet's(notes) contract will only give the team about $1.3 million in space with 11 forwards and 5 defensemen under contract.
The name Brian Campbell(notes) has come up in the wake of Sharp's vote of confidence, but Darryl Sutter's not even taking on $7.14 million annually until 2016. It's an unmovable contract unless the Blackhawks ridiculously sweeten the pot with picks and take salary back. Plus, he has a partial no-trade clause.
With Sharp off the table and Campbell owning one of the most poisonous contracts in the NHL, how long before the "Trade Hossa" war drums start pounding in Blackhawk Nation; because no less an authority as the Bleacher Report has been calling for it since May!