What are Chicago's goaltending options if they don't keep Antti Niemi?

Thumbnail image for finiemi.jpgWhile the Blackhawks continue to try and work out a contract agreement with goaltender Antti Niemi before his arbitration hearing on July 29th, it’s not the worst idea in the world for Blackhawks fans to start taking a look around elsewhere for potential new goaltenders. After all, if Niemi does go to arbitration and lands anywhere between $2.5 to $3 million the Hawks will have their hands tied one way or the other as far as the roster goes.

Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago got curious about things himself and ran down a list of potential candidates to either back up Cristobal Huet or challenge him straight up for the starting job. This list may actually hurt the feelings of Blackhawks fans, or provide some much-needed summertime levity.

Corey Crawford: He probably remains the best and most likely option. At $800,000, his cap hit is on par with Niemi’s of a year ago, and it might simply be his turn.

If this turned out to be Chicago’s move, then life with Huet is how things would go in Chicago whether fans liked it or not. Crawford’s numbers with AHL Rockford last year: 42 games, 2.67 goals against average, .909 save percentage. Crawford played in just one NHL game last year for the Blackhawks giving up three goals in a losing effort.

Marty Turco: He already turned down $2 million a year for three years from Philadelphia, so he might be pricing himself out of the running — unless he changes his mind in order to play for a Cup winning team.

The issue here with Turco is how much of a discount would he take to make it allowable for him to play in Chicago. Money will be tight for the Blackhawks no matter what and while he’d provide for a fascinating season-long drama the questions about his consistency would linger all year long. While we’re not talking about a Cristobal Huet-level of goalie anxiety for the team, Turco has certainly had his fair share of ups and downs in Dallas the last few seasons.

Jose Theodore: I guess a 30-7 record doesn’t get you very far anymore. Not when the GAA is 2.81 and the team flames out in the playoffs. And he had just one shutout for the President Trophy-winning Washington Capitals.

We all forgot about Jose being available, haven’t we? As Rogers notes, his numbers aren’t exactly awe-inspiring especially when you think of Chicago fans wanting to run Huet out of town and he sported a GAA of 2.50. With Chicago in a semi-rebuild mode (more like repair) and not knowing how, exactly, the defense will play out opting for Theodore at a vastly reduced pay may not be the greatest option.

Vesa Toskala: You would have to look past an awful 2009-10 season. He’s won more games than he’s lost every year he’s been in the league — until this past season. Of course, playing for Toronto wasn’t the easiest task for any goaltender.

Somehow, this suggestion isn’t a joke. It’s awfully hard to look past how poorly Toskala played in Toronto and for Calgary as well. Soft goals, poor positioning and zero confidence all conspired to make Vesa Toskala the rightful butt of jokes from all across Canada. Chicago fans can start hammering on the panic button if Toskala ends up wearing the Indian next season.

On the fun side of things, a tandem of Huet and Toskala could be referred to as the “Gas Tanker” with how many fires they’ll start that the Chicago offense will have to find a way to put out by bailing them out. Lovers of “firewagon hockey” are huge proponents of this move.

Ray Emery: He might be better suited as a cheap option as a back-up to Crawford, if he can stay healthy. Emery is coming off of hip surgery and only once played in more than 40 games in a season.

Not only did Emery have hip surgery, but he was diagnosed with avascular necrosis, a condition that weakens the bones. Considering the ailment is affecting his hips, it’d make for a remarkable story if Emery was able to continue playing hockey at an elite level. That said, Emery’s inconsistency when he is able to play might wear very thin on coach Joel Quenneville.

Clearly, getting things right with Antti Niemi is Chicago’s priority but given the constraints the team has with their finances there’s another lesson in the hard realities of the current NHL on the way to Blackhawks fans coming soon for Blackhawks fans one way or another. How this saga plays out should prove fascinating.

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    Is Rickard Rakell worth $4M per season to the Ducks?

    ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Rickard Rakell #67 of the Anaheim Ducks skates during a game against the Vancouver Canucks at Honda Center on November 30, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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    The Anaheim Ducks have two significant restricted free agents they still need to take care of, and Hampus Lindholm is easily the most important name to cross off the list.

    (Seriously, the analytics community pegs him as a budding star, so the Ducks should probably lock him up for as long and cheap as possible.)

    While Lindholm is a must-sign, Rickard Rakell‘s situation is more interesting since it presents a murkier risk-reward debate.

    Elevated ground

    Rakell broke through in 2015-16, scoring 20 goals and 43 points. He blew away all of his previous numbers while logging more than 16 minutes per game.

    His agent Peter Wallen told the OC Register that the team and his RFA client “I think we will find common ground for a solid agreement,” yet one must wonder if Ducks management is trembling at the gamble ahead.

    That report ponders a long-term deal that would net Rakell around a $4 million cap hit, something that the Hockey News backs up.

    Kadri’s six-year, $27-million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which pays an average of $4.5 million per season, is probably the upper limit of what Rakell is set to earn, while Coyle’s five-year, $16-million deal with the Minnesota Wild, an average of $3.2 million per season, is likely the low end. The most likely comparisons boil down to two players, then, with Rask and Backlund each having signed their current deals over the course of the past 13 months.

    For a budget-conscious team like the Ducks, betting big on Rakell could be especially risky.

    Cushy gig

    If the 23-year-old does land a generous deal, he should send Bruce Boudreau a “Thank You” note or three. Rakell began a whopping 60 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone in 2015-16, putting him in a great position to maximize his chances.

    His most common skating partners were Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Sami Vatanen and Lindholm to boot.

    One shouldn’t penalize Rakell for seizing his opportunities, but with a limited sample size of the young forward being a difference-maker, you have to wonder how much his value has been inflated.

    ***

    The OC Register explains the advantages of locking him up for a longer term (avoiding arbitration years, not having to risk an even bigger deal if Rakell pans out), yet a “bridge deal” might be the better way to go here.

    Replacing Boudreau with Randy Carlyle was a polarizing decision, yet that the Ducks face some other tough calls this off-season.

    Report: Blue Jackets on the verge of signing Sam Gagner

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Sam Gagner #89 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on before a face off against the New York Rangers on April 7, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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    It sounds like Sam Gagner may determine his destination for 2015-16 in the near future.

    The Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline reports that the Columbus Blue Jackets are close to signing Gagner to a one-year, one-way deal. Such an agreement might not be made official until Monday, according to Portzline.

    After a bumpy season with the Philadelphia Flyers in which he spent some time in the AHL, Gagner must especially appreciate the one-way nature of his next contract.

    The Blue Jackets aren’t the only team interested in the 26-year-old, as his name was also connected to the Vancouver Canucks:

    It looks like the still-quite-young scorer will get a clean slate after bouncing around and being defined by a bloated contract originally signed with the Edmonton Oilers.

    Remember when he broke one of Wayne Gretzky’s records during an eight-point night?

    Gagner’s presence could make life easier for the likes of Boone Jenner:

    It’s conceivable that Gagner could enjoy a nice rebound season if used in a specialized, protected role. The Blue Jackets may very well be the right fit.

    … And on the other hand, the deficits in Gagner’s all-around game could at least provide some John Tortorella rage and entertainment.

    Everyone wins.

    Former Sabres forward Jochen Hecht calls it a career

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 01:  Jochen Hecht #55 of the Buffalo Sabres against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on March 1, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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    The Mannheim Eagles announced that German forward Jochen Hecht is retiring from hockey.

    (It’s OK to be a little bewildered that he was still playing, just don’t be too mean about it.)

    Hecht played 833 regular season games and 59 playoff contests at the NHL level, making his greatest mark as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

    His last bit of NHL action came in 2012-13, when he scored 14 points in 47 games for Buffalo.

    Since then, he wrapped up his career with the Mannheim Eagles, a team he’s sporadically played for since 1994-95.

    Honestly, it’s weird to see Hecht in any sweater not related to German’s national teams, the Eagles or Sabres, even though the Blues actually drafted him:

    Then again, he could also look odd in a certain Sabres sweater.

    Apparently he got the NHL 16 Hockey Ultimate Card treatment:

    Plenty of Sabres fans and reporters fondly remember Hecht, so here’s to a nice career.

    Yes, it’s really happening: Vegas NHL team installs ice for first time

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    Sometimes you just need a reminder that a remarkable thing actually is happening.

    Saturday presented the latest evidence that the NHL coming to Las Vegas isn’t just a collective fever dream, as the still-nameless franchise noted that they’ve begun the process to install ice at T-Mobile Arena for the first time.

    It’s not the prettiest picture, but it means a lot:

    While setting up the first sheet of ice is a physical sign that things are coming together, the front office side will dictate the sort of team that eventually plays on it.

    For more insight into that process, Puck Daddy takes a look at Murray Craven, who appears to be a key part of bringing things together … even if it’s difficult to nail down a specific title.