Antti Niemi

UFA of the Day: Antti Niemi

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Check PHT every day until June 30 for a new pending unrestricted free agent of the day. Today’s UFA of the Day is…

Antti Niemi

He won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks, and he was a Vezina finalist with the Sharks. So his agent does have a good story to sell.

“I have to think he’s going to be one of the most sought-after goalies on the market,” Markus Lehto told ESPN.com.

But Niemi, 31, is also coming off a couple of so-so seasons in San Jose. His save percentage was .913 in 2013-14 and .914 in 2014-15, when the league average was .915.

While the Sharks have not ruled out bringing Niemi back, and Niemi has not “closed the door” on the Sharks, most expect him to move on.

Niemi’s future is likely to be determined in part by the trade market. Younger goalies like Cam Talbot, Robin Lehner, and Eddie Lack could all be dealt by July 1. Once the dust clears there, it’ll be easier to nail down his options.

Other UFA goalies include Devan Dubnyk, Karri Ramo, Michal Neuvirth, and Jhonas Enroth.

If Dubnyk somehow fails to reach a deal with the Wild, the market will become further convoluted.

Click here for more UFAs.

Toews admits Chicago’s cap crunch feels ‘a lot like 2010’

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Much like in 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks are celebrating a triumphant Stanley Cup win. The unfortunate similarity seems to be that, with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane getting raises, key supporting cast members are likely out.

With the salary cap ceiling officially set at $71.4 million, that reality is even setting in for Toews, who shared this sobering comment during media availability heading into the 2015 NHL Awards.

“All of a sudden, it does feel a lot like 2010, where it’s imminent,” Toews said, according to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times.

In a way, it’s a metaphorical hangover from a Stanley Cup celebration … although Toews & Co. might still be recovering from (and creating new) literal ones.

As of this moment, General Fanager pegs Chicago’s cap space at about $7.35 million. That figure includes eight forwards, three defensemen and three goalies (Chicago has some breathing room with Scott Darling’s 2015-16 season being two-way). It also doesn’t include free agent concerns, which is certainly relevant with UFAs such as Johnny Oduya and RFAs including standout Brandon Saad.

Indeed, looking at this situation, it’s easy to see parallels from that first Toews-Kane-era Cup win, when the Blackhawks let Antti Niemi go following arbitration while being forced to trade away the likes of Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd.

Those losses hurt as the Blackhawks limped into the 2011 postseason, yet they obviously bounced back.

In case you’re wondering, GM Stan Bowman is currently gauging the value of trade pieces such as Patrick Sharp, as ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reports.

LeBrun notes that Chicago would be willing to take salary back in potential moves, though only to a certain extent. Getting something done fast would grease the wheels, too:

What is preferable for the Blackhawks, however, is to make the deal happen before the draft, in a perfect world. That way they could recoup a draft pick, which is key given what they gave up from this year’s draft for Antoine Vermette (a first-round pick, 30th overall) and Kimmo Timonen (second-round pick, 61st overall). Mind you, the Blackhawks do have the 54th-overall selection, a compensatory pick for not signing 2010 pick Kevin Hayes.

In other words, it’s wise for Toews to realize that times are changing … because some big moves could be coming as soon as this week.

Here’s video from the Chicago-Sun Times:

Chiarelli thinks Oilers will probably add a goalie before draft

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The Edmonton Oilers have captured headlines recently with their changes to their scouting department. If general manager Peter Chiarelli is right, the next big story involving Edmonton might involve the squad acquiring a goaltender.

“My guess is we’ll probably be able to do something before the draft,” Chiarelli told the Edmonton Sun. “But I’m not completely sure.

“At the end of the day it takes two to tango so you have to have the right deal in place. But I’m not averse to going to the free agent market, either.”

He noted that getting a goaltender is a bit of a buyers market as there are several noteworthy netminders on the block. It’s believed that the New York Rangers want to move Cam Talbot, the Ottawa Senators need to trade Craig Anderson or Robin Lehner, and the Vancouver Canucks are open to dealing Eddie Lack.

The fact that Edmonton controls six of the first 86 selections in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft should also help its ability to secure a goaltender in the coming days.

That being said, if the Oilers don’t trade for a netminder, there will likely be options available to them on the open market. Antti Niemi, Jhonas Enroth, and Devan Dubnyk are among those that might test the free agent waters.

Wilson: Sharks will ‘explore everything’ to improve

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After all the turmoil of the last 12 months, Doug Wilson remains as GM of the San Jose Sharks. Many would agree that changing head coaches should just be the beginning of his work this offseason.

Whether it be trades, free agents acquisitions or moving around in the draft, it sounds like the situation is pretty flexible for the Sharks during during what Wilson described as “probably the most important part of the transition process that we’ve gone through the last year.”

“We’re putting this team in a position to bounce back and be very competitive come September,” Wilson said during a pre-draft address, according to CSNBayArea.com. “Will we explore everything? Yeah, we will.”

Exploring everything could mean giving up cap space to improve and it also may mean handing over a high draft pick.

The Sharks actually have a lot of both.

General Fanager estimates their cap space at $17.3 million, and while they need to re-sign or replace Antti Niemi, the Sharks could conceivably make a big splash in free agency or exploit another team’s cap crunch this summer. Wilson has also done an impressive job collecting draft assets, as San Jose boasts 17 selections in the next two drafts.

The Globe & Mail’s James Mirtle provides some interesting insight into Wilson’s possible aims:

While San Jose’s most immediate need appears to be a starting goalie, they’re also interested in adding on the blueline. That could come through free agency, as there’s a solid crop of defencemen available that includes François Beauchemin, Paul Martin, Christian Ehrhoff, Johnny Oduya, Andrej Sekera, Cody Franson and Mike Green.

Sure, it had to sting to miss the playoffs in 2014-15, and it’s possible that the team’s dysfunction may continue. That said, this team could make a dramatic push if Wilson’s on his game during (another) pivotal offseason.

Sharks won’t re-sign Hannan or Scott, Niemi’s future uncertain

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Adam Burish wasn’t the only Shark to receive his walking papers Friday — shortly after news of Burish’s buyout went public, San Jose GM Doug Wilson told reporters the club was also parting ways with veterans John Scott and Scott Hannan.

Scott, the heavyweight signed last summer to add an “element of security,” failed to make much of an impact beyond his two suspensions this season. Though he did score a career-high three goals, the 6-foot-8 enforcer appeared in just 38 games and averaged 7:27 TOI per.

Hannan, 36, was a little more of a factor, dressing for 58 games while averaging over 16 minutes a night. San Jose’s first-round pick back in 1997, Hannan was in his second tour of duty with the Sharks but became an afterthought following the trade deadline, didn’t play much, then suffered a few injuries at the tail end of the year.

As for veteran goalie Antti Niemi… well, the jury’s still out. Wilson suggested in the past he’d like to go another direction in goal, but stopped just short of cutting ties. It’s possible the Sharks will stay in contact with the Finnish netminder as a “Plan B,” should free agency not work out in their favor.