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.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado

Detroit waives Cleary

Daniel Cleary

Dan Cleary‘s time as a Red Wing could soon be over.

Detroit placed the veteran forward on waivers Wednesday afternoon, per TSN. The move comes after Cleary signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $950,000 just weeks before training camp, then proceeded to play in four of Detroit’s exhibition contests, scoring two points.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens now.

At 36, Cleary doesn’t have much left in the tank and is coming off a year in which he played just 17 games. But as we noted back in the summer, this seems to all be part of a larger plan.

From the Free Press:

A situation that bears the handprint of former coach Mike Babcock has put the Wings in the position of being honor-bound to keep Cleary, 36, aboard, even as he is coming off a season that saw him play just 17 games, producing two points.

This debacle began two years ago. The Wings had offered Cleary a three-year, $6.25-million contract before he became unrestricted July 1. He declined. The Wings then signed Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson, leaving little space under the salary cap. Then Cleary didn’t sign with anyone. September rolled around. The Flyers offered Cleary a three-year deal for $8.25 million, but Cleary then decided he wanted to stay in Detroit.

He ended up flying to Traverse City, where the Wings already had begun training camp. He met in a hangar with Holland and Babcock. Holland pointed to a near maxed-out budget. Babcock pushed hard for Cleary to be signed. What resulted was a one-year, $1.75-million deal with the understanding the Wings would take into consideration what Cleary left on the Flyers table.

After playing out that $1.75 million deal, Cleary re-signed in Detroit last summer to a one-year, $1.5 million pact — so, essentially, the Wings are now in final year of an unspoken three-year agreement that’s (sorta) aimed at repaying what got left on the table in Philly.

Got all that?

If Cleary gets through waivers, the Wings could send him to AHL Grand Rapids. Since he signed a one-way deal, he’d get his money regardless.

There’s also the option of Babcock and the Leafs claiming Cleary off waivers — a scenario that, as unlikely as it sounds, has already made the rounds on social media.