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.

Flyers edge Red Wings, stay hot in 2018

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At this rate, Travis Konecny might earn the nickname “OT.”

For the second straight game, the young forward scored the OT-winner for the Philadelphia Flyers. In this case, it salvaged a 3-2 overtime win against the Red Wings in Detroit, pushing Philly’s winning streak to four games.

Red Wings fan left the building booing, as Konency just barely avoided being offside on the decisive goal. Such a finish will probably sting a little extra for Tyler Bertuzzi, who was all over the place in the third period but couldn’t seal the Red Wings’ rally.

Three of the Flyers’ four straight wins have come in overtime, so they’re gutting out some close wins lately.

It’s a sweet deal for the Flyers, as they’ll end the night in the Metropolitan Division’s third spot, even if the New York Rangers win their game against the Anaheim Ducks.

Such a rise isn’t just about this four-game winning streak.

After ending 2017 on a down note (losing three of their last four games of the year), the Flyers are now 8-2-0 in 2018. Tuesday was promising for Philly even beyond its own work, as the Carolina Hurricanes (loss to Pittsburgh) and New Jersey Devils (fell to Bruins) both fell in regulation.

Quite the turnaround for a team that once dropped 10 straight games and saw fans calling for head coach Dave Hakstol’s head, huh?

A strong second period played a big role in Philly’s win. Detroit carried a 1-0 lead into the middle frame, but the Flyers scored twice to take a lead that would ultimately get them into overtime. They generated an 18-7 shots on goal advantage in the second period and a 31-21 edge overall.

The Flyers continue to do enough of everything to win games, and such versatility might just earn them a playoff berth. For all we know, that might even end up battling for a round of home-ice advantage.

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.

Rough night for goalie injuries: Devils’ Schneider, Panthers’ Reimer

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Tuesday could end up being a tough night when it comes to goalie injuries.

  • The New Jersey Devils have already been struggling, but this high-offense/shaky-defense mix could really crumble without a healthy Cory Schneider. That’s the concern tonight, as he left the Devils’ game against the red-hot Boston Bruins with a lower-body injury.

The Devils were already dealing with Keith Kinkaid being sidelined with a groin issue, so Ken Appleby is taking over, and likely absorbing some outstanding jokes about chain restaurants and/or cheap appetizers.

  • On a similar note, the Florida Panthers were already waiting as Roberto Luongo heals up, and now James Reimer is dealing with something during tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars. While footage of Schneider laboring after moving laterally is not yet available, here’s a GIF of Reimer being shaken up:

Reimer cooled off in January, but he helped keep the Panthers’ playoff hopes at least on life support in December, going 7-3-3 with a sparkling .932 save percentage during that month.

Both the Panthers and Devils were already dealing with some struggles, so possibly being down to the third goalies on their depth charts wouldn’t help matters. Each squad has to hope that their goalies are only dealing with minor issues.

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.

Islanders could play quite a bit at Nassau Coliseum in future (Report)

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The New York Islanders need to wait for what sounds like a better home arena situation at Belmont Park, but in the meantime, why not make a lot of people by finding a happy medium?

Newsday’s Jim Baumbach cites anonymous sources who indicate that the Islanders could end up becoming quite a presence back at Nassau Coliseum from 2018-19 to whenever the Belmont Park arena is ready (Baumbach indicates that would be no earlier than the 2021-22 season).

It sounds like there would be some mixture of Brooklyn (Barclays Center) and Long Island (Nassau Coliseum) dates in this setup. Baumbach reports that talks point to about 12 games at Nassau Coliseum in 2018-19; if that test run goes well, the Islanders could play about half of their home games at their former longtime home on Long Island.

While Baumbach reports that there are certain details that need to be hashed out, an official announcement may come soon.

Baumbach adds this interesting detail that indicates that quite a few parties would love to see more games at Nassau, and not just a significant portion of Isles fans:

Interesting.

On paper, an NHL team in Brooklyn sounded wonderful, but Barclays Center simply wasn’t built with hockey in mind. There have been plenty of complaints about ice quality, obstructed views, and challenges for fans trying to get to games.

That said, it’s interesting that the Islanders have been pretty strong at home so far in 2017-18, going 13-7-3 as of this writing.

If you ask a lot of Islanders fans, the dream is probably to see a lot more of John Tavares, preferably at Nassau Coliseum. Time will tell what happens with their big star, but the locale part might work out for fans.

It almost makes you want to start up a “Yes!” chant, doesn’t it?

(H/T to The Score.)

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.

How will Bruins handle loss of Charlie McAvoy?

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Monday brought rough news for the red-hot Boston Bruins: sensational rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy will miss at least two weeks after undergoing a procedure to treat an abnormal heartbeat.

As you can see in the video above, Keith Jones and Anson Carter discussed McAvoy’s absence, believing that the Bruins will be able to handle it reasonably well.

Tuesday represents the first test, as the B’s take on the New Jersey Devils in a game that’s currently in progress. It’s unclear how much it has to do with McAvoy not being in the lineup, but early on Boston is struggling on defense.

Via Left Wing Lock, it looks like Brandon Carlo slides into the top pairing with Zdeno Chara, while the other pairings look like this:

Chara — Carlo

Torey KrugAdam McQuaid

Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

Now, Bruce Cassidy deserves credit for taking Claude Julien’s move to a more modern system in 2016-17 to a new level this season, and players like Krug and Carlo boast some promise.

That said, McAvoy’s beyond-his-age impact might be slipping under the radar. So far this season, only Chara (23:26 per game) is averaging more ice time than McAvoy (22:48), with Krug coming in at a distant third of 20:01. McAvoy’s possession stats have, honestly, been pretty brilliant.

While McAvoy undoubtedly benefits from the presence of Chara and what Jones (persuasively) argues is the best offensive line in hockey in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, other blueliners haven’t been this brilliant even while receiving such a plum gig. Via this handy tool from CJ Turtoro using Corey Sznajder’s data, you can see that McAvoy has been a beast in transition and in denying opponents entry into his zone:

In other words, McAvoy is off the charts for a 20-year-old by most measures, including a healthy 25 points in 45 games this season. If the Calder Trophy was friendlier to defensemen, he’d probably be getting more hype as one of the best rookies in the NHL.

You don’t have to use “for a rookie” or “for a 20-year-old” qualifiers with McAvoy, though. He’s an important piece by any measure.

Even if McAvoy’s numbers are quite inflated – again, plausible with Chara still being really good – the Bruins could feel the sting from a depth standpoint. Guys who maybe should be in street clothes instead get foisted into the lineup. Someone better suited for a mid-level role might be asked to do too much.

McAvoy is expected, at least initially, to only miss two weeks, which would mean missing somewhere between 5-7 games the way Boston’s schedule falls. Of course, this is a heart-related procedure we’re talking about, so the Bruins need to proceed with caution if the young skater experiences setbacks.

If it’s only two weeks, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal; it might just give the Bruins a chance to realize just how pivotal he’s been in their rise from a team fighting for its playoff life to something more.

Update: The Bruins extended their point streak to 17 games, winning 3-2. Tuukka Rask was forced to make 37 saves, though.

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.