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.