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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    Canada would consider Doan, Iginla for 2018 Winter Olympics

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    When discussing the construction of Canada’s possible roster heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics, Sean Burke can be almost frustratingly coy. Still, in leaving virtually every available avenue at least conceivably open, he leaves room for some fascinating scenarios.

    It might be tough to top this one discussed on TSN’s Overdrive 1050: if NHL teams pass on signing Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan, perhaps the Olympics could be their swan song?

    Yes, there are quite a few “ifs” involved, but it’s an intriguing thought during the dog days of the hockey summer.

    Burke likely presented more realistic possibilities in acknowledging that professional players plying their trade in Europe, particularly the KHL, might be the greatest source for talent.

    “Most of our players will be guys that come from Europe playing in the KHL,” Burke said to TSN’s Overdrive 1050.

    When pondering possible entries, recent international tournaments could be helpful.

    Looking at Canada’s 2016 Deutschland Cup roster and who they’re sending to the 2017 Sochi Open, NHL castoffs such as Derek Roy, Gilbert Brule, Nigel Dawes, Andrew Ebbett, Chris Lee, and Mason Raymond all seem likely logical choices. College players such as Cale Makar make things more complicated – both for Canada and the U.S. – as well.

    In a separate interview with TSN, Burke noted that he would rather not supply specific names himself. Even in being vague, he provided an additional interesting detail: upcoming tournaments may illuminate what Canada lacks on its roster as much as who could have a leg-up on making the team.

    And, if nothing else, they’ll get a good look at some players through a rigorous process.

    Wow.

    That notion makes you wonder if AHL players will be at a significant disadvantage to make both Team Canada and the United States rosters. As the Associated Press notes, AHL teams look poised to loan certain players, but only for a window of Feb. 5-26.

    Burke notes that he’ll want a significant chunk of his roster more or less settled around December, and he already pointed to a preference for those who are playing in Europe.

    Now, that doesn’t mean Canada or the U.S. will ignore an obvious AHL talent – if available – yet it sounds like those players would face an uphill battle to making the 2018 Winter Olympics.

    That said, a lot can change, especially considering how often injuries can throw a wrench in things.

    As much as we’d all love to watch a “best-on-best” tournament featuring NHL players, the alternative is also intriguing: seeing how different teams construct rosters from a variety of other leagues/resources.

    And, hey, it could be awfully fun to see the likes of Iginla and/or Doan leading a motley crew of young players and former NHLers. Such a thought might even get Doan to admit that he was out of bounds in blaspheming “Miracle.”

    Zibanejad jumps at opportunity to be Rangers’ No. 1 center

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    It’s reasonable to assume that the New York Rangers were comfortable trading Derek Stepan in part because they believed Mika Zibanejad could step into the No. 1 center role.

    That puts a lot of pressure on Zibanejad, who’s never been the top pivot on an NHL team before. If that wasn’t enough, now he’ll need to justify the first big contract of his career (seeing his cap hit rise from $2.625 million to $5.35 million).

    MORE: Rangers lock up Zibanejad for five years

    At least he isn’t oblivious to this challenge, and as the Rangers website notes, he’s actually super happy* to raise the stakes.

    “I think even before signing, seeing Derek being traded was a little bit of an alert to me that I might get a chance to play a bigger role,” Zibanejad said. “As a player, you always want more responsibility and a bigger role. It’s something that I’m working really hard to make sure that I’m … taking advantage of the chance I’m getting.”

    Stepan drew criticism – arguably unfair criticism – from Rangers fans for not being quite the No. 1 center many of them wanted, so it will be interesting to see how Zibanejad handles the challenge/burden.

    If you were to grade his first season with the Rangers, you might be tempted to hand him an “Incomplete.”

    Injuries really limited him for much of 2016-17, but when he played, he was solid, scoring 14 goals and 37 points in 56 games. Zibanejad had a flair for the dramatic, too.

    Still, in full seasons, Zibanejad’s produced nice-but-unspectacular numbers. Two straight 20+ goal seasons to finish his Senators days were helpful, but many of his stats more or less fell in line with Stepan’s production.

    Now, at 24, it’s reasonable to believe that Zibanejad’s best days are in front of him. It’s also true that, while he’s received nice opportunities to succeed, he wasn’t quite getting those top-line reps that Stepan received.

    In all likelihood, it will come down to expectations. If Rangers fans want Zibanejad to produce at a level far exceeding Stepan, they might be disappointed; the bar for a successful season by most forwards’ standards has changed in the NHL, and Stepan’s mostly made the grade. On the other hand, if expectations are kept in check, Zibanejad could be a very nice fit for the Rangers.

    Though he might miss the Derick Brassard comparisons now that the measuring stick changed to Derek Stepan.

    * – Seriously, the guy said “super happy” a lot.

    Yandle is happy Tallon is back running the Panthers

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    It’s that time.

    We’re approaching August, which means that the deluge of hockey optimism is really headed our way.

    Players on teams that missed the playoffs – sometimes badly – will fill notebooks with quotes about how excited they are about next season. Guys whose past seasons were riddled by injuries will say that they’re in the best shape of their lives.

    Now, look, there’s nothing wrong with that. And, hey, some of those players will almost certainly end up being right. Sometimes they provide some substance beyond the blindly positive comments.

    That’s not really the interesting part of Keith Yandle‘s gushing comments about the Florida Panthers, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. Nope, it’s interesting because he’s praising GM Dale Tallon regaining his post.

    “Having Dale back in charge, I think that was the main thing that got everyone going,” Yandle said. “You sense the power over the locker room that Dale can have. It’s such a positive thing when you have a guy like Dale Tallon. Everyone respects him and everything he does for the team. Going into the season knowing he has our back, he has the team, and obviously that he hired great coaches too, it’s a great thing.”

    Yandle’s enthusiasm regarding Tallon is interesting because, frankly, Yandle seems like he was part of the batch of analytics-driven signings.

    Without knowing for sure, Yandle seems like the sort of defenseman “old-school-types” might not like. There were rumblings that he refused to waive his NMC for the expansion draft, only fueling thoughts that the very executive he’s praising might have wanted him out.

    Tallon’s already done work to walk back certain moves from that not-so-old-regime, as he engineered the moves to send not just Jonathan Marchessault but also Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights. There were also rumors that the Panthers were shopping Jason Demers, possibly more than once.

    Now, it’s possible that Yandle could be excited about the direction of the team, even if said team might prefer that he was playing elsewhere. Still, it’s an amusing note amid a fairly typical round of optimistic quotes.

    (Yandle does make some solid points about why 2017-18 could be better, by the way.)

    Willie Desjardins to coach Team Canada at Olympics

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    The past two Winter Olympics, Team Canada has been coached to gold by Mike Babcock, currently the NHL’s highest-paid bench boss.

    But the 2018 Olympics in South Korea will be a very different animal. The NHL is not sending its players this time. When the Games are on, Babcock will be busy with his Toronto Maple Leafs.

    So, today, Hockey Canada announced that Willie Desjardins, recently fired by the Vancouver Canucks, will be the head coach of the two-time defending gold medalists. Desjardins will be assisted by former Team Canada head coach Dave King, as well as Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

    Sean Burke, who rose to prominence as a goalie in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics — which didn’t feature NHLers, either — will be Canada’s general manager. Burke will be aided by Martin Brodeur.

    “This is an exciting time for Hockey Canada and for our National Men’s Team program, and it will be an exciting season for Canadian hockey fans,” said Tom Renney, Hockey Canada’s CEO. “The goal is always to field the best possible team in all upcoming competitions, including this February when we hit the world’s biggest sporting stage in Pyeonchang. The faces on our Team Canada rosters may be different than in previous years, but the expectations will be the same; with the addition of Sean, Martin, Willie, Dave, Scott, and Craig, we have assembled some of the best hockey minds out there to help us meet those expectations of on-ice success.”

    Today’s announcement is yet more evidence, if you still required it, that the NHL isn’t bluffing about not sending its players to South Korea.

    In an email to The Hockey News, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly refuted a report out of Russia that suggested the league had a backup schedule with an Olympic break in it.

    “There is not an alternative schedule,” Daly wrote. “Having NHL Players participate in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games is not an available option. All of the international federations are planning appropriately for constructing teams that will not include NHL players. I anticipate there will be federation announcements in the coming days that should eliminate any and all continuing doubt or skepticism about the issue.”

    The NHL released the 2017-18 schedule a month ago.

    Related: Tampa awarded the 2018 All-Star Game, further dampening Olympic hopes