Because of injuries, Rick DiPietro has played just 13 games over the past two seasons. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
Since former Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi hit the free agent market several weeks ago, there was speculation the New York Islanders would be amongst those pursuing him.
On Monday, however, Katie Strang of Newsday shot down those rumors, citing a well-placed source saying the Isles have no interest in Niemi.
The “Niemi to Islanders” chatter likely had its origins over the uncertainty of the health of Rick DiPietro, whose lengthy injury history and prolonged absences led some rumormongers to suggest Niemi would make a good insurance signing, comparable to that of Martin Biron a year ago.
But DiPietro is reportedly fit for training camp and, if healthy, he and veteran Dwayne Roloson should give the Isles a decent tandem between the pipes this season.
While Niemi’s agent expressed confidence a couple of weeks ago that his client should soon find another NHL team, it’s possible he’ll remain unsigned when training camps open next month.
It remains to be seen if there’s a market for Niemi, but it appears there’s one for former Vancouver Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell.
Since making a full recovery from a season-ending concussion, Mitchell’s value in the unrestricted free agent market has improved considerably. That’s not surprising given the 33-year-old’s skills as a physical, defensive blueliner coupled with his experience and leadership.
Recent reports claim four teams – the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Washington Capitals and the Canucks – have interest in signing Mitchell, who met with the Kings and Capitals since last week.
However, salary cap constraints might prevent the Canucks from bidding competitively for Mitchell, who earned $3.5 million last season.
The Anaheim Ducks remain in the market for a veteran defenseman, but if Mitchell is seeking as much or more than he made last season, that could put him out of the Ducks’ price range.
The Canucks are also believed to be shopping defenseman Kevin Bieksa, but that might not have an impact on where Mitchell goes. If anything, it could be the opposite, as the teams that lose out in the Mitchell sweepstakes (Canucks excepted, of course) could turn their attention toward Bieksa.
THN.com columnist Ryan Dixon listed several notable players still seeking a Stanley Cup at age 30. Mitchell wasn’t on that list, but at age 32, he won’t have many more chances to play for a Cup winner.
The clubs he’s linked to go into this coming season as Cup contenders and would give Mitchell the best chance to play for a winner.
The Dallas Stars opted to pass on bidding for Toronto’s Tomas Kaberle, but it is believed GM Joe Nieuwendyk still seeks an experienced puckmoving defenseman.
Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News was recently asked by a reader if Nieuwendyk might pursue Bieksa.
Nieuwendyk wouldn’t comment, but Heika suggests Bieksa’s salary ($3.75 million for this season) and UFA status next summer probably doesn’t make him a good fit with the Stars.
With the Stars under a self-imposed salary cap considerably lower than the league’s $59.4 million ceiling, it’s probably safe to assume Nieuwendyk has no interest in Edmonton’s Sheldon Souray, given he has two more years left on his contract with an average cap hit of $5.4 million per season.
Nieuwendyk also still has to re-sign restricted free agent forward James Neal, so if the GM does bring in an experienced puckmoving blueliner, he will either have to do it as a dollar-for-dollar swap or else dump salary in the same trade, a separate deal or via demotions.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.