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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    The Leafs need some wins, starting tonight against Minnesota

    TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 5:  Mitchell Marner #16, Auston Matthews #34, and Nikita Soshnikov #26 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate a victory against the Vancouver Canucks in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on November 5, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Canucks 6-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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    The Toronto Maple Leafs had a decent road trip to Western Canada. They beat the Oilers, lost to the Flames, then probably deserved better in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Canucks.

    But if these Leafs (10-9-5) want to stay in the playoff hunt, they’ll need to take advantage of their upcoming schedule. Starting tonight against Minnesota, they play six of their next seven at home. Their only road game is Saturday in Boston.

    Mike Babcock’s bunch entered the day six points back of Washington for the second wild-card spot. The coach liked how his charges played Saturday in Vancouver, where they outshot the Canucks, 40-24, but could get only get two pucks past Ryan Miller.

    “I thought we played well,” said Babcock. “You’ve got to give Miller a lot of credit, I thought he did a real nice job for them and kind of held the fort there. I was pleased with our effort. You’d love to get the other point, sure, but that was a good game for our team. I thought we really pushed hard as the game went on.”

    Tonight in Minnesota’s crease, the Leafs will see one of the hottest goalies in hockey. Devan Dubnyk is 10-6-3 with a .946 save percentage. He’s been the Wild’s MVP this season, and it’s not even a debate.

    “He has given us a chance every night, he has been spectacular, especially late in games,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau, per the Toronto Star. “We play so many close games he has to make saves to get us to overtime or to seal the game. I know we don’t get us much press as the people up here (in Canada), but he’s been as good as any goalie in the league.”

    It’ll be up to Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and the rest of the Leafs to turn their solid puck-possession numbers into goals, while making sure not to give the Wild too many scoring chances the other way.

    Defense has been an issue for Toronto this season. The running-and-gunning Buds have the third-worst goals-against average in the league (3.08), lower than only Dallas (3.22) and Arizona (3.16).

    Following ‘disastrous’ effort, Stars lose Honka to injury

    Lindy Ruff
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    Dallas only surrendered two goals in last night’s loss to Calgary — not the markings of a terrible defensive night.

    But in many ways, it was exactly that.

    Head coach Lindy Ruff called the second period “disastrous.” The Morning-News wrote the number of high-quality chances Dallas surrendered was “almost shocking.” And Julius Honka, one of the club’s brightest young d-man prospects, suffered an upper-body injury that will force him to miss the next few games.

    Tough times in Dallas.

    The Honka injury will throw the defense into further arrears. Ruff has spent most of this season juggling the group, with mainstays like Dan Hamhuis and John Klingberg getting parked in the press box as healthy scratches. Stephen Johns has been in and out — which included a stint in the American League — while the likes of Esa Lindell, Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak have been platooned as well.

    The Stars were forced to finish last night’s game with just five blueliners, though Honka’s injury isn’t believed to be serious. Dallas plays next on Thursday night at home against Nashville, then heads out for a back-to-back road set — Saturday in Philly, and Sunday in Chicago.

    Related: What has happened to the Dallas Stars?

     

     

    After a slow start, the Preds have really turned it around

    Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban (76), center, celebrates with Filip Forsberg (9), of Sweden, Kevin Fiala (56), of Switzerland, and Mattias Ekholm (14), of Sweden, after Subban scored a goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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    The Nashville Predators are still outside the playoff picture in the Western Conference, but they’re very clearly putting a slow start behind them.

    The Preds beat Colorado, 4-3, last night in Nashville. They are now 9-4-1 since beginning the season 3-5-3, and they are winning with the kind of puck-possession game that many expected from them.

    Via Puck on Net, here are the top 10 teams in score-adjusted Corsi over the last 10 games:

    preds

    That is some excellent company the Preds are not only keeping, but leading. The Blue Jackets, right below them, are the hottest team in the NHL. The Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup champs. The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy last season. The Sharks won the Western Conference.

    Though strong puck-possession numbers don’t always translate into wins — just ask the Carolina Hurricanes — they typically lead to good results over the long run. The one thing that can sink a strong possession team is poor goaltending, but Pekka Rinne (11-5-4, .926) has been mostly solid this season.

    The Preds are also getting good production from their big offseason trade acquisition, defenseman P.K. Subban, who has 17 points, including seven goals, in 25 games.

    “I just try to do my job and just keep it simple, try to put the puck on net,” Subban told The Tennessean. “Sometimes you’ve got to get some bounces, and you only get those bounces when you put pucks at the net.”

    The Preds are averaging 31.6 shots per game, the sixth most in the NHL behind Pittsburgh, Boston, Toronto, Edmonton, and Philadelphia.

    Next up for Nashville is a date with the Stars in Dallas tomorrow. That’s a huge game for both Central Division teams. The Stars lost again last night, falling 2-1 to the surging Flames.

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    Report: Leafs win arbitration case with Cowen

    OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 21: Jared Cowen #2 of the Ottawa Senators prepares for a faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Canadian Tire Centre on January 21, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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    The Toronto Maple Leafs have won their arbitration case with Jared Cowen, who will remain bought out.

    TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported the news today. It is a significant loss for Cowen, the 25-year-old defenseman who came to the Leafs in February as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade.

    From Sportsnet’s story before the ruling:

    At issue is whether Cowen was healthy enough to have the final year of his contract bought out by the Leafs last summer. A lengthy section of the CBA is devoted to “procedures for determining fitness to play,” and they include a player’s right to pursue a second medical opinion beyond what is provided by the team.

    That information, plus witness testimony and other evidence, will be taken into account by the arbitrator while rendering a decision.

    For Cowen, there is $3-million in salary at stake. That represents somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25 per cent of his career NHL earnings to date – a huge amount given his injury history and diminished future earning potential.

    For the Leafs, it’s significant win. They’ll actually get a $650,000 cap credit this season. Next season, they’ll take a $750,000 hit, and after that their obligations are over.

    If they’d lost, they would’ve lost the credit and assumed a $3.1-million cap hit this season, the final year of Cowen’s contract.

    Sportsnet explains why the Leafs didn’t want to lose:

    That’s a $3.75-million cap swing in total and would almost certainly result in the Leafs invoking long-term injury relief on one of three players – Nathan Horton, Stephane Robidas or Joffrey Lupul – to remain compliant.

    Even though the LTI maneuver would offer immediate relief, it’s something the Leafs hope to avoid since it would increase the size of the cap overage penalty they’ll carry into next season because of performance bonuses expected to be earned by as many as five rookies in their current lineup.

    Cowen had hip surgery after he was bought out. It’s been reported he may not be ready to play until February, assuming he can find a team. He played 37 games for the Senators last season, registering no goals and four assists.

    Related: Lupul to start season on injured reserve, still aims to play again