Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: From negotiation to arbitration

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Hawk Talk: From negotiation to arbitration

Wednesday, July 28, 2010
3:40 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com
It's a painful irony.

The Blackhawks are the most financially successful they've been in years, thanks to the product on the ice and the presentation all around it, yet they might not be able to afford to pay the goalie who helped lead them to their first Stanley Cup in half a century.

We'll have a better idea within a week, if not sooner, who'll be the man in the nets when the Blackhawks open defense. It has nothing to do with not wanting Antti Niemi back. Stan Bowman may even totally agree with what agent Bill Zito thinks his client is worth. And you can't deny an agent or a player for wanting what they feel they deserve, especially after turning to him, relying upon him, and getting those 16 wins in April, May and June.

At 8 a.m., Chicago time, Thursday morning in Toronto, each side will get 90 minutes in front of an arbitrator to state their case for Niemi's salary for the 2010-11 season. Niemi will be present. That's where things are always uncomfortable in any sport, even if a team loves the guy and wants him back - listening to why he should be paid lower than the salary he thinks he's worth, and may, in fact, deserve, based on what other goalies of similar age and skill are being paid. Bowman and Zito seem to be in agreement this is more about the money within the salary cap the Hawks don't have now, as opposed to what Niemi should probably earn.

Each side is already aware of the other's proposals and arguments, both through paperwork filed Tuesday, and simply through the numerous conversations Bowman and Zito have had in recent weeks to get creative in hopes of hammering something out. Unless they discover a solution they hadn't found previously and sign a deal prior to the start of the hearing, they'll walk away around lunchtime and wait. The arbitrator's choice between the two proposals comes within 48 hours, and the Hawks then have another 48 to determine whether to accept the ruling. If not, Niemi becomes an unrestricted free agent. If they accept despite a salary being too high for their liking, they have the right to trade Niemi, or keep him and either seek a trade for him, or trade other players to open the necessary salary cap space.

Everyone's asked over the past several weeks what kinds of numbers are being tossed around. I don't know and can only hazard a guess, which might not be as much brain surgery as most things are for me. What I tell them is, if I'm the Hawks, with the money I have and what I may still have to do with the roster, I'm trying to appeal to Niemi's camp the idea of making three times what he made last season as a rookie, which would put him in the 2.5 million salary range, and build on that in a multi-year deal, keeping the Cap "hit" in mind. I have a feeling they might be able to live with having to pay up to 3 million, but don't believe that number's even in play from either side for the hearing. I also tell them the reason I believe there hasn't been an agreement yet is the bar St. Louis set in their 4-year, 15 million contract with Jaroslav Halak. He was also a rookie, had similar regular season numbers as Niemi, and was as big a reason as any the Canadiens knocked off Washington and Pittsburgh before falling to Philadelphia. That's the neighborhood in which Niemi and Zito are likely shopping. And he didn't win the Cup.

So if it comes to the point where Niemi isn't a Blackhawk, where does he go, either by unrestricted free agency or a trade?

The landscape for most teams at that position is pretty settled by now. Do the Flyers think Niemi's that much better than Michael Leighton, whom they re-signed, but not necessarily as the starter? Especially with all those defensemen they have? Yet they have Cap challenges, too. I don't necessarily believe Columbus (which has a new coach) is ready to pull the plug on their guy who just got a Calder Trophy a year ago, Steve Mason. Edmonton has tons of Cap room, and I'm not sure where Nikolai Khabibulin is in his back surgery rehab now - not to mention the money they gave him a year ago for 18 games' worth. Is Ottawa comfortable enough with Elliott and Leclaire? And finally, one rumor making the rounds is that part of Doug Wilson's strategy in his offer sheet for Niklas Hjalmarsson was not just to find a replacement for Rob Blake (which they still must do), but perhaps make a play for Niemi should he go on the market. Wilson signed Antero Niittymaki for 3 million each of the next two seasons, but would he invest further at that position if believes the goalie who helped knock his Sharks out of the post-season is an upgrade?

Marty Turco and Jose Theodore are still on the market, and their prices obviously haven't been right for those clubs still out there seeking goalie help. They are dominoes that may well fall once Niemi's situation is cleared up. Corey Crawford is in the wings, and could he be ready to at least provide what Niemi did?

Those questions don't need to be answered yet. We'll find out soon whether they'll need to be.

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

On two consecutive Saturday evenings the Blackhawks were looking for a little more offense. On two consecutive Saturday evenings they got some from Gustav Forsling, whose shots got through to either tie a game (vs. Carolina) or take a lead (vs. Pittsburgh).

Forsling isn’t the big go-to guy when it comes to points but he’s nevertheless getting them for a Blackhawks team that’s starting to find its offense again. But this is more about Forsling’s overall game which, not long after he made the Blackhawks roster last fall, plateaued. This season he’s been more consistent and more confident from the start, and he and Jan Rutta have formed a pair that coach Joel Quenneville trusts and has kept together for most of this season. The 21-year-old defenseman talked of working on the mental side of his game entering this season and said he feels the difference.

“I’ve been working on it this summer and I feel a little bit better,” he said. “[Just] more confident with the puck and confident in myself and pretty much everywhere.”

Quenneville has seen the difference.

“I think he’s getting better with his reads,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a better gap. [Being] quicker all over the ice is part of that and nice to see him pound one that goes through because his shot can be a lot heavier than it’s been and we want him to use it a little bit more, too.”

Forsling says he feels comfortable playing with any of the Blackhawks’ defensemen but there’s no doubt he and Rutta have been good together. The two clicked immediately, and at times they’ve been the Blackhawks’ second pair.

“I think we’re thinking the same way out there on the ice. We have a great conversation out there and everything’s worked out fine,” Forsling said. “He’s a funny guy and we get along well.”

Forsling’s offensive contributions are welcomed but so is his defense. When the Rangers were looking for the game-tying goal late in the third period on Wednesday, Forsling was on Corey Crawford’s left side to prevent David Desharnais from scoring it. Seventy-six seconds later, Artem Anisimov’s goal gave the Blackhawks a two-goal lead.

“Great play by him,” Crawford said. “For us, we want to cover the short side there and it’s great or him to get over quick and get his stick there. Definitely a great stop by him.”

Forsling’s playing with more confidence. He’s added a little early offense. The Blackhawks wanted Forsling to reach another level this season and so far, he’s doing that.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night:
 
1. That's how you start a game.

The Blackhawks haven't had the best of starts over the last couple weeks or so — aside from their recent four-goal first period against New Jersey. But they flew out of the gates in Pittsburgh.

Chicago recorded 27 shot attempts (11 on goal) in the opening frame compared to Pittsburgh's 13 attempts (nine on goal), and led in the even-strength scoring chances department 11-2.

Two of those chances were breakaways from Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews, but both were denied by Matt Murray. The Blackhawks cashed in on one of two power play opportunities, however, and took a 1-0 lead into the second.

2. Power play strikes again.

Speaking of power plays, the Blackhawks came up empty on their first one of the game, but they were handed another one 44 seconds later at the midway mark of the first and capitalized when Gustav Forsling slipped one five-hole past Murray. 

It's the third consecutive game the Blackhawks have scored on the man advantage, something they hadn't done since Oct. 7-12 when they scored in four straight. It's also the second consecutive game the power play unit netted the game winner.

The Blackhawks are 5-for-13 (38.5 percent) on the power play in their last three games after going 5-for-53 (9.4 percent) in their previous 12. 

3. Should Blackhawks have pushed back immediately following Corey Crawford injury?

A scary moment occurred in the second period when Evgeni Malkin swiped Crawford in the mask while racing for a loose puck, forcing the Blackhawks netminder to exit before returning a few minutes later.

Malkin was given a two-minute minor penalty for goaltender interference, but should the Blackhawks have stood up for Crawford at the expense of getting tagged with a penalty themselves?

No question a power play opportunity with a chance to make it a two-goal game at that stage of the game — and against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions who hadn't lost in regulation at home this season going into the matchup —  is important, but the Blackhawks' lack of retaliation was a bit surpising. 

It wasn't a dirty play by Malkin by any means, but there's a principle involved when your goaltender gets hit like that. Those are the kinds of penalties you shouldn't mind taking, and at the very worst it would've been 4-on-4 hockey with one of Pittsburgh's best forwards in the box.

4. Artem Anisimov stays hot.

The goals keep coming for No. 15.

After the Penguins tied it up at 1-1 in the third period with a shorthanded goal, Anisimov scored 21 seconds later on the power play to put the Blackhawks back in front 2-1.

Anisimov now has nine goals in his last 10 games after scoring just one goal in his first 10 to start the season. He also has four game-winning goals on the season, all of which have come this month. Brandon Saad leads the NHL with five.

5. Alex DeBrincat extends point streak.

Lost in the shuffle was the Blackhawks' top rookie getting on the scoresheet once again.

With an assist on Forsling's power play goal in the first period, DeBrincat extended his point streak to four games. He has four goals and two assists in that span, and is averaging a point per game over his last nine (six goals and three assists).

DeBrincat also moved into a three-way tie with Richard Panik and Toews for second on the team with 13 points.