Niemi's arbitration split-decision is better than expected news for Blackhawks

anttiniemi5.jpgWhile the Chicago Blackhawks have to be somewhat happy with how goaltender Antti Niemi’s arbitration case turned out today, rewarding him $2.75 million, finding out about where each side was hoping to end up in the grand scheme of things salary-wise is a curious matter. Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago checks in to tell us that the Blackhawks were looking for a cap-saving amount while Antti Niemi was hoping to be paid like a Stanley Cup-winning goalie.

Sources familiar with the hearing say the Chicago Blackhawks gave the arbitrator a figure of only $1.5 million while Niemi’s camp countered with $4 million. The arbiter basically split the difference by awarding Niemi $2.75 million for the upcoming season.

It means the Hawks were hoping for and most likely planning to keep Niemi if the arbitrator came in with a figure closer to their $1.5 million. At $2.75 million, the Hawks can still work Niemi on to their roster but only if other salaries are shed.

Clearly the Hawks’ intent was to keep the price reasonable and retain Antti Niemi so they don’t have to do any further roster shuffling. While I doubt Niemi’s intent was to put the Blackhawks over a barrel with what he wanted, you can’t really blame a guy going for the gusto like that with the demand.

The Blackhawks may have been setting their salary request to be based around Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask who makes $1.25 million. One player that you could say is a nearly identical contemporary of Antti Niemi is Jaroslav Halak and the Blues gave him a four-year deal worth $3.75 million a year. It’s fascinating to see that the goalie who helped his team win the Stanley Cup scores a contract worth a million dollars less. Perhaps the Blackhawks will send a fruit basket to the arbitrator for that gift or just be thankful they didn’t end up getting the arbitrator in Clarke MacArthur’s case.

As for what the Blackhawks could do to stay under the cap, Blackhawks blog Hockee Night toyed around with the Cap Geek calculator and came up with a cap-fitting starting roster of 20 players. If that works out, Chicago will have to start investing in lucky charms and voodoo to make sure the team stays healthy all year long.

It’s interesting to note that the arbitrator in Niemi’s case was also the same one who handled Blake Wheeler’s arbitration as well and both of them got reasonable, team-friendly deals. It’s also worth noting that both the Bruins and Blackhawks were looking at possibly having to make major roster moves if either of those cases fell more in favor of what the players wanted. And you wonder why we have conspiracy theorists in the NHL, you see things like this and you can’t help but wonder if these things aren’t exactly a coincidence. As it is, the arbitrator split the difference between the demands and that shouldn’t be too alarming but we all know how these things go, let’s just hope the appropriate parties have enough tinfoil for their hats.

The Blackhawks have until Monday to decide if they’ll accept Niemi’s decision. One way or the other, a roster move of some variety will be made to accommodate any action the Hawks take. The Great Chicago Fire Sale of 2010 isn’t quite over yet.

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    Ducks deny rally, end Penguins’ winning streak

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    When Ondrej Kase cashed in on another breakaway opportunity for the Ducks to make it 4-1 in the second period, it looked like that goal would be icing on the cake for Anaheim. Even if it would be especially pretty frosting.

    Instead, that stylish goal ended up being critical, as the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly rallied in the third period to at least send Wednesday’s game to overtime. John Gibson ended up holding down the fort, and with an empty-netter in the dying seconds, the Ducks ended up beating the Penguins 5-3.

    You could call it a game of periods and close calls.

    The Penguins entered the first intermission thanks to a 1-0 Evgeni Malkin goal, but the Ducks dominated the middle frame with their first four-goal period of 2017-18. The Penguins’ prolific power play helped them stay in the game (2-for-4, with both goals coming during that third-period comeback bid), but the rally fell short. Pittsburgh’s winning streak ended at four victories.

    Some bounces went both ways, as Antoine Vermette nearly scored for the Ducks while Carl Hagelin suffered a near-miss. So maybe those missed opportunities cancel each other out?

    From the Ducks’ perspective, this is the latest argument in favor of this team being a threat now that key pieces have returned to the lineup. This win begins what they hope is a successful five-game homestand, as Anaheim still needs to battle for its own playoff hopes.

    The Penguins can’t ruminate on this loss for very long. They head to Los Angeles to face what must be a frustrated Kings team (four straight defeats, only two wins in their last eight games) on Thursday, with little reason to expect any mercy.

    This last stretch of wins improved the Penguins’ outlook, but dropping games in back-to-back nights could make things tense again in a hurry. You can check out that Penguins – Kings game on NBCSN Thursday.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Willie O’Ree celebrates 60th anniversary of debut with Bruins

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    BOSTON (AP) Hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree was honored in Boston on Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of the Bruins forward breaking the NHL’s color barrier.

    At a news conference at the TD Garden before the Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens, Mayor Marty Walsh declared Jan. 18, 2018 to be “Willie O’Ree Day”. O’Ree made his debut in 1958 during a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum in Montreal.

    Walsh called O’Ree a Boston legend who changed the city for the better and thanked him for his courage. As part of the celebration, the city dedicated a new street hockey rink in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to be known as Willie O’Ree Rink.

    A native of Canada, O’Ree, 82, had four goals and 10 assists in 45 games over parts of two NHL seasons. He spent a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

    For the past two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone.

    More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

    Bruins cruise vs. Canadiens in Julien’s return to Boston

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    Don’t blame Claude Julien if Wednesday made him think of better times, and not just because it was his welcome back night in Boston.

    Coming into this one, it was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and the teams stuck to their scripts. The Boston Bruins remain red-hot with a 4-1 win, while the Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity .. or worse?

    When you’re as disappointing as the Canadiens have been, plenty of things are going wrong. It was a weak start even with a 1-0 lead and 1-1 first period in mind, and it obviously didn’t get any better.

    Nights like these have to sting for Julien, a coach known for his sophisticated systems and eye for defensive detail.

    There are questions about Max Pacioretty possibly being trade bait. People wonder if Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk fit as centers, or if neither work that way. Yet, these performances make you realize that as exasperated as management must be, they may also appreciate more specific distractions.

    Because, frankly, this was a team … non-effort.

    Then again, the Bruins are a red-hot squad, so maybe they shine an especially harsh light on the Habs’ haplessness?

    Boston generated a 32-22 shots on goal advantage in this one, with multiple contributors stepping up. Big guns came through (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were among the goal scorers, Patrice Bergeron collected two assists), while David Backes and others added to the fun.

    It was the kind of effort Julien would have been very happy with, if it didn’t come at his expense.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Anaheim Ducks

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    PROJECTED LINEUPS

    Pittsburgh Penguins

    Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

    Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

    Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

    Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

    Brian DumoulinKris Letang

    Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

    Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

    Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

    [NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

    Ducks

    Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

    Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

    Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

    Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

    Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

    Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

    Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

    Starting goalie: John Gibson