From what I can remember, there really isn’t much precedent for Antti Niemi’s “rookie” season, when it comes to contract negotiations.
The 26-year-old Finnish goalie played 39 games regular season along with 22 in the playoffs, backstopping the Chicago Blackhawks to its first Stanley Cup in almost 50 years. His save percentage was very similar in the playoffs (91%) and the regular season (91.2) while his goals against average inflated slightly when the games mattered the most (2.32 in the regular season vs. 2.63 in the postseason). Perhaps most importantly, Niemi was 26-7-6 during the season and 16-5-1 in the playoffs.
His playoff run was far from spotless, but Niemi still played a bit above average (91% is pretty solid). There were games when he absolutely slammed the door during an onslaught (see: most of the San Jose Sharks series and some of the third periods against the Flyers), while others he won merely because his team can fill the net like few others in the NHL.
According to a story in the National Post, Niemi probably won’t take much of a discount to stay with the Blackhawks. Can someone say that the team truly “needs” him, though? While he was a clear upgrade over the oft-criticized Cristobal Huet, he’s a lot like a solid pitcher who puts up an amazing win-loss record because he gets unreal run support.
So, it’s basically tough to say how much he’s really worth. Being a restricted free agent, teams would have to give up a draft pick (or three) to sign Niemi. It’s not as simple as just out-bidding Chicago. That being said, a Stanley Cup can really bolster a goalie’s resume. I’d say he’s liable to sign a contract in the range of a $3 million annual cap hit, but it could be more if a different team is smitten enough to send an offer sheet his way.
What do you think, fair PHT reader? Cast your vote in the poll below.