When it comes to who's going to be the goaltender next season for the Philadelphia Flyers, it doesn't seem like there's too many options left. Obviously, Michael Leighton is the guy if the season were to start today, but I think 90 percent of us can agree that if Paul Holmgren has any smarts left in his brain, he'd be wise to go after one of the goalies still on the market.
That group, of course, is thin in terms of talent. In reality, it only includes Jose Theodore and Marty Turco. Turco seems the best bet, while Theodore could perhaps be out of the Flyers price range, but then again, the number of teams looking for goalies drives down the price on any of these guys.
There is one more name that could be set to appear on the horizon, however, and he's a familiar face. The name is Antti Niemi, and as his arbitration hearing with the Chicago Blackhawks came to a close today, the noise surrounding the proceedings seem to suggest that the arbitrator's ruling may not necessarily settle things.
If the Hawks deem the figure awarded for the one-year deal too high they could let Niemi walk as an unrestricted free agent and move in a different direction at a critical position. They also could accept the ruling and later trade Niemi or another player for some relief for their serious salary-cap issues.
General manager Stan Bowman confirmed the same in a press conference tonight with the media, saying that the arbitrator is expected to rule on Saturday and that the three options for the club are acceptance, flat out rejection or a trade. If Chicago decides that they can't fit Niemi into their tight, salary-capped plans, he'll be out of town one way or another. Would you like to see Philadelphia on the end of his plane ticket?
As the Tribune blurb there alluded to, Niemi could arrive in Philadelphia two ways. If Chicago flat out rejects the arbitrator's ruling, the Blackhawks can walk away and Niemi will become an unrestricted free agent. From there, how many teams are looking to sign a goalie? The Flyers and the Blackhawks? It's not a long list.
And the same thing goes in terms of the trade market. Perhaps a team with room to take on a little salary could give up a lower paid goalie in a trade for Niemi, thus solving the Blackhawks goalie problems. But in terms of a trade market for Niemi, there isn't much there.
The Flyers would have the upper hand in those talks with the Blackhawks, and in the same vein as the Gagne trade, any negotiatons with the Blackhawks are begun with the knowledge that Bowman and his team don't have much flexibility.
Of course, this is all conjecture. We don't know if the Flyers are going to go after Niemi if he becomes available, and we don't know if the Flyers are going to go after any goalie at all. The question we're asking is would you like them to do so?
Niemi does have one thing the other goalies on the market don't have, and no, the answer isn't a Stanley Cup (although he obviously has one of those, too). He's young, and that's something that can't be said for Turco or Theodore or even Leighton, to an extent -- Leights is 29 while Niemi is 26, for the record.
He's not Martin Brodeur, and I think we can all agree on that at this point, but his potential is sky high and he's already won a Stanley Cup. You can't argue with success. He's proven that he can with stand the pressure of the NHL playoffs and he even displayed absolute brilliance at times. He has the potential to be a great goaltender in the NHL, and he could be open and up for grabs in just a few days.
But does the money work? The reports are saying that Niemi wants between $3 and $4 million, and that's obviously a pretty hefty chunk of change that the Flyers don't have. Say the Blackhawks reject the arbitrator's ruling and he becomes a UFA, though. The market dictates that Niemi should get a lot less than that type of money. Could he, like Turco and Theodore, be willing to take less money to have a job?
There are plenty of questions still out there, but in the meantime, after weighing all the options and the consequences, would you like to see Antti Niemi find his way to town?