While the Chicago Blackhawks held their fan convention this weekend, much of the festivities were a bit overshadowed wondering about what the team will do with goaltender Antti Niemi. This is unknown territory really for any NHL team to have such great success one year winning the Stanley Cup to scrapping a lot of the roster in the off-season and now temporarily landing in limbo regarding the goalie that helped win the Cup. While general manager Stan Bowman has a lot to mull over before making a decision on Niemi by Monday, he did take time out to speak with the fans at the convention and, of course, the team’s goaltending was the topic of conversation as Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago tells us.
“There are always options in every decision and you have to weigh what it’ll take, what it would do to your team flexibility-wise if you decide to keep him, or do you have to make a decision in another direction,” Bowman told the panel audience. “There are pluses and minuses to all strategies. We’ll come up with the right decision. I tried to say this all along: one man doesn’t make a team here. We’re going to be ready come October to defend the Cup and we’re going to work on making sure we get it right.”
When asked about Corey Crawford, who has spent several years in the Blackhawks’ minor-league system, Bowman said, “I think the time is now for him to get an opportunity to show what he can do.
“You don’t want to rush a goaltender to the NHL. But he’s spent a number of years playing in our system. He’s carried the load (in the minors) year after year, and we think it’s time for him.”
I don’t want to go and read into what are obviously pretty crafted and careful answers regarding what is going to be a huge decision. Also keep in mind that Stan Bowman isn’t likely going to talk about guys that are outside of the organization either. This reads like a guy who is prepared for just about any sort of scenario and is, indeed, ready for anything.
What is Chicago’s plan remains to be seen and the options are many. Chicago can accept the contract and then start shuffling players around or out of town to help fill out a complete roster, they can walk away from the award and make Niemi an instant unrestricted free agent or they can trade Niemi himself after signing him to his contract.
If you’re looking for a hint or a guiding light as to what Chicago will do, good luck finding it right now. Things appear to be especially tight-lipped at the moment which lends itself to speculation that plans to let Niemi go free and sign Marty Turco for a smaller contract get to linger on a little longer. About the only thing that seems to be certain is that Cristobal Huet doesn’t factor into Chicago’s plans at all because of his massive salary. At least he’ll have a Stanley Cup ring and the treat of bringing the Cup to the Eiffel Tower in Paris to celebrate winning it. That and lots and lots of money.