Earlier today, new St. Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak, formerly of the Montreal Canadiens, signed a four-year contract with the Blues worth $15 million. While the Blues are likely ecstatic they got a budding young superstar locked up for a cap hit of $3.75 million a year, there’s another team out there that’s probably terrified by Halak’s deal: The Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks have to be scared because they’ve got a restricted free agent goaltender of their own in Antti Niemi. The Blackhawks also have some salary cap issues of their own to work with and around as well. In other words, a semi-reasonable deal for Jaroslav Halak becomes Antti Niemi’s “Exhibit A” to use in a potential arbitration hearing with the Hawks. Ken Campbell of The Hockey News examines the situation a little bit himself.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Niemi will get a contract worth $3.75 per season in arbitration. Niemi’s award would be only a one- or two-year award and it’s difficult to compare that to a four-year deal, particularly since one of those seasons Halak would have been an unrestricted free agent. Generally speaking, more of a premium is put on longer contracts and every year a team can avoid unrestricted free agency comes at a cost.
The fun part of this analysis here is that Niemi can become an unrestricted free agent after next season since he’ll be 27. If the Blackhawks are looking to keep Niemi on the long term, they’ll have to negotiate that out with him themselves and deal with Halak’s numbers. If they go to arbitration, Niemi’s case is made for him already with Halak setting the precedent. Niemi can then say something along the lines of, “Sure, Halak’s season and post season were nice and all but he still got pulled three times and finished 9-9. I won the Stanley Cup. Pay me.”
Only problem there is that Niemi wasn’t exactly playing the part of Patrick Roy on his way to helping the Blackhawks win the Cup, he looked a bit more like Grant Fuhr in that he wasn’t exactly stellar in goal but he didn’t cost his team any series and certainly wasn’t quite as poor as Michael Leighton was in the finals.