Antti Niemi helped the Chicago Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup championship since 1961 last season. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks’ decision earlier this week to reject the $2.75 million arbitration award for goalie Antti Niemi leaves him an unrestricted free agent in search of a new team.
It didn’t take long for speculation to arise as to possible destinations for Niemi. NHL.com suggested the Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, Atlanta Thrashers, Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers have varying degrees of interest in him.
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren was quick to deny interest in Niemi, while the Canadiens are committed to re-signing Carey Price. The Thrashers recently signed Chris Mason and have high hopes for Ondrej Pavelec, so rule them out as a fit.
One Internet-based rumor that claimed the Blue Jackets were interested in Niemi’s services was dismissed by Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch.
Capitals management has maintained they’ll stick with Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, while the Stars re-signed Kari Lehtonen and added free agent Andrew Raycroft.
Internet speculation had Niemi or Jose Theodore in talks with the Nashville Predators, which was denied by Predators GM David Poile, who intends to give the young goalies in his system an opportunity to backup Pekka Rinne.
That leaves the Sharks. GM Doug Wilson’s signing of Antero Niittymaki last month left many observers puzzled and continues to lead to suggestions they are not done bolstering their goaltending.
The harsh reality is there aren’t many options available for Niemi.
Despite backstopping the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup title in 49 years, there’s a perception the team did it in spite of, not because of, the Finnish goalie. It’s a possibility he’ll still be unsigned by the start of the season.
As for the Blackhawks, who replaced Niemi with free agent Marty Turco, THN columnist Rory Boylen observes Niemi won games he seemingly had no business winning, rarely allowing a momentum-shifting goal.
Boylen suggests exchanging Turco for Niemi is the first move this summer that will impact the Blackhawks’ regular season.
MICHAEL RYDER STAYING IN BOSTON?
So much for speculation the Boston Bruins will buy out the final season of winger Michael Ryder’s contract.
The team decided to pass on that option meaning it will either have to trade, waive or demote him to free up additional cap space if it is unable to trade Marc Savard or Tim Thomas.
Given Ryder’s salary ($4 million), it’s believed the Bruins will demote him prior to the start of the upcoming season.
Boston might have better luck placing him on recall waivers (whereby a rival team can claim him for half his salary) or perhaps shopping him later in the season when his salary becomes more affordable.
OILERS FACE A CREASE FULL OF GOALIES
The Edmonton Oilers face a logjam in goal this season.
Nikolai Khabibulin, Devan Dubnyk and Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers are under one-way NHL contracts, leading to speculation either Dubnyk or Deslauriers will be shopped.
The team, however, will surely await the outcome of Khabibulin’s upcoming hearing in Arizona. He faces DUI charges and if sentenced to jail time, he would be unavailable at the start of the season.
CANUCKS LOOKING TO BRING BACK WILLIE MITCHELL?
Former Vancouver defenseman Willie Mitchell is reportedly making good progress in rehabbing from a season-ending concussion and has been in talks with several teams, including the Canucks. The 33-year-old is an unrestricted free agent.
While the Canucks have some cap relief to start the season with Sami Salo sidelined for several months, it’s unlikely they’ll have room to sign Mitchell.
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.