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.

Why Blackhawks fans might want to tap the brakes on Alex DeBrincat

Why Blackhawks fans might want to tap the brakes on Alex DeBrincat

This is public service announcement regarding Alex DeBrincat and his potential this season with the Blackhawks:

Tap the brakes.

We’ve relayed this address a few times the past few seasons, most notably with Teuvo Teravainen as people eagerly anticipated his professional debut. We’re pretty sure when he was recalled for the first time, exultant trumpets played faintly in the background. But it bears repeating now with DeBrincat, who might or might not do fantastic things right out of training camp.

This warning, however, comes not only because DeBrincat might not be ready for the grand stage play-wise. It’s also because the Blackhawks might not have room for him.

Take a look at CapFriendly.com for the Blackhawks’ current situation: As they enter the fall they’re roughly $35,000 over the $75 million salary cap, but it’s not so much about money as it is the roster setup. There are 22 players currently listed on the Blackhawk’s CapFriendly roster, but only five defensemen. Also, of the 14 forwards listed, only one could be sent to Rockford without going through waivers (Nick Schmaltz).

So if there’s no room for DeBrincat, don’t be surprised.

Still, it’s going to be interesting to see what DeBrincat does at training camp this fall. You understand why the hype is there. DeBrincat is coming off three stellar seasons with the Erie Otters, with whom he had 127 points (65 goals, 62 assists) last season. DeBrincat is hopeful that a strong training camp could lead to opportunity, but he understands it might not be right away.

“I’m confident in my abilities,” DeBrincat said. “But they have a plan for me and I’ll do whatever they want me to do. I’ll stick with their plan.”

But the Blackhawks will take the slow-and steady approach with him as they did with past younger players. He’s only 19 years old, so there’s no need to rush his development. Playing time in the American Hockey League could be very beneficial for him as he makes the jump from the OHL to the pros. As former Otters coach Kris Knoblauch said earlier this summer, dealing with bigger and stronger players at this level is going to be the toughest hurdle for DeBrincat.

“It’s not that he’s afraid; he’s very good at battles. But just playing against the opposition, against five strong, fast players and just finding out how much time he has, where the room is,” Knoblauch said in early June. “One-on-one battles in our league, there are strong guys and he does fairly well. But when you have a unit of guys, it makes the game a little more difficult.”

DeBrincat will have his time with the Blackhawks. It just might not be right away, and for several reasons, including the current roster setup. So let’s tap the brakes. For now, anyway.

Boston University coach predicts breakout year for Blackhawks prospect Chad Krys

Boston University coach predicts breakout year for Blackhawks prospect Chad Krys

Chad Krys was like any other freshman college hockey player last season. He had his ups and downs and improved as the season continued. In a few months the Blackhawks prospect will be heading to Boston University for his sophomore year, and his coach believes he can be one of college’s best defensemen next season.

“Now that he’s comfortable and knows what’s expected of him, I don’t want to put too much pressure on him but I think he can have a breakout year,” said Boston Terriers coach David Quinn. “He’s played a lot of hockey, and I really think he has the elite talent, the work ethic continues to improve and his conditioning really improved.”

Krys, the Blackhawks’ second-round selection (45th overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft, is working toward that at this week’s Blackhawks prospect camp. Krys was part of what Quinn said was the youngest team in the country last season. The Terriers, who had nine freshmen in their lineup, fell to Minnesota-Duluth in the West Regional last March.

Even through the ups and downs, the lessons were valuable.

“Like coach Quinn said, our biggest problem was our immaturity but we couldn’t help that. We were all 18 and 19 years old. But I think it’ll be good for us having a lot of guys coming back and being returning players,” said Krys, who added the accelerated learning curve should help, too. “Going through that with everyone, especially in my class, there were a lot of us in a similar situation, trying to get to the next level. So I think we experienced a lot of team things.”

As a freshman, Krys had five goals and six assists in 39 games for the Terriers. He said he focused on trying to improve his overall defense last season, and Quinn said he took steps forward in that department.

“He’s always been a really good, gifted player and had the puck an awful lot. But most kids as they climb the hockey ladder, they haven’t had to defend a lot because they’ve had the puck a lot. At the higher level you have to play both ends of the rink,” Quinn said. “He had better defense, particularly off the rush and he did a better job down low defending. He also did a better job getting involved offensively.”

Considering Quinn’s outlook of Krys, it’s no surprise he’s pegging the young defenseman to be one of the Terriers’ leaders next season and beyond. Krys has an affable personality — at the 2016 NHL Draft he brought his GoPro and interviewed Alex DeBrincat, who was selected six picks prior to Krys. That, combined with his play make him a strong potential leader. Krys is fine with being that guy.

“That first year you’re a freshman and you’re just trying to find your way,” he said. “The second year I want to be more dynamic and more of a go-to guy for the team.”

All the potential is there for Krys to have a strong future with the Blackhawks – “I’d be more surprised if he didn’t play than he did. He’s a legit prospect,” Quinn said. Until then, his coach feels Krys is on the cusp of having a big season with Boston.

“The jump to college hockey’s big, and he’s feeling his way through it. He had a good first half but a better second half,” Quinn said. “There’s no reason he shouldn’t be one of the better defensemen in all of college hockey.”