Antti Niemi: Stanley Cup-winning goalie doesn't want to play in Europe

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Thumbnail image for anttiniemi5.jpgIt’s been quite the summer for Stanley Cup winning goaltender Antti Niemi, hasn’t it? First he helps Chicago win their first Cup since 1961, then he goes to arbitration with the team to help settle his restricted free agent contract status with them, then he wins a $2.75 million arbitration award only to see the Blackhawks walk away from the award and sign Marty Turco.

Now, Niemi sits as an unrestricted free agent and looks for a goaltending job in the NHL, something which other unrestricted free agents like Evgeni Nabokov and Jose Theodore have struggled with. While Nabokov headed to Russia for a lucrative deal with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg, Theodore is still jobless for the time being and along with Niemi that creates competition in a goalie market that doesn’t appear to have many, if any, positions open. Could Niemi take his talents to Europe in the meantime? Not if he’s got anything to say about it.

“The NHL is the only place I am willing to play,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “I don’t know right now where, but I will play in the NHL.”

Niemi also said he’s still in shock over the way his contract situation played out and the team’s unexpected decision to walk away from his arbitration award of $2.75 million. He never expected to become a salary cap victim.

“I thought it would get worked out all along and never really thought it wouldn’t,” Niemi told the newspaper. “And then when it happened and they signed (Marty) Turco, I was real disappointed. I still am. But it worked out for them, so …”

So with all that said, is Niemi holding anything against the Blackhawks about how things shook out? Well…

What bothered Niemi the most was the speed of the process–the team’s decision to walk away from his award and sign a cheaper, older Turco, who has not played well for several years.

“It seemed like they already had a plan without me,” Niemi told the paper. “I don’t think I had another choice.”

But he said he doesn’t regret his decision to go to arbitration and he’s not bitter toward the city that gave him the opportunity to win a championship ring.

“I’ll remember the Stanley Cup the rest of my life,” he told the paper. “I just want to thank fans in Chicago for being so good to me and giving me such huge support. … It’s sad I won’t be able to be there next year.”

Yeah, it’s understandable to be sad about these things, but this is just business and I’m sure at some point, Niemi had to be wondering if perhaps his agent got him in over his head going to arbitration. After all, by the time things got hashed out with Niemi, the goaltending market was pretty much set. Nabokov had gone to Russia to play and get paid, Theodore wasn’t finding any action in free agency and the buzz going around about Niemi is that he wasn’t “crucial” to Chicago’s success in the playoffs. After all, Niemi’s numbers weren’t staggering nor did he truly have to steal any games for the Blackhawks throughout the playoffs, he just had to be good enough in goal for them to not sweat too much.

As for where Niemi could, possibly, end up there are lots of teams with goaltending questions but whether or not they’d dare make a run at Niemi is speculation we’ll save for tomorrow when we take a look around the league to see who might and who won’t take a flier on Antti Niemi.

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.