Poor Ilya Kovalchuk. It’s gotta be tough sitting around wondering when and where you’ll get your next $10 million a year pay check. And until we all find out, here are a few random thoughts.
The Hawks are on the clock with Niemi: And that’s a dangerous place to be for the Stanley Cup champs. Niemi is slated for an arbitration hearing Thursday, and unless the two sides reach a deal first, it could end up pricing the goalie who took Chicago to the title as a rookie right out of town.
So far this summer the Blackhawks have done the kind of axing on their payroll that would make Lizzie Borden proud, but they’ve managed to keep a core group of their five best forwards and four best defensemen intact in the process. Niemi presumably should be part of that group because he’s only 26 years old, but Chicago may not be able to fit him in because the team is already at the cap limit and may still has only 17 players signed.
Certainly Niemi has earned a big raise from $800,000 he made in his remarkable freshman season. Chicago would like to sign him for around $2 million a season, but comparable goalies like Jaroslav Halak and Pekka Rinne have recently signed deals worth in the $3.5 million range and neither has a Cup win on their resumes. If Niemi wins in arbitration, the Blackhawks may be forced to walk away and lose the goalie to unrestricted free agency.
In that case Chicago could turn to Cristobal Huet, the $5.6 million mistake still on their books or prospect Corey Crawford barely lost the backup spot to Niemi last season. Veteran free agents Marty Turco and Jose Theodore are still looking for jobs and might be desperate enough to be affordable as training camp nears too. But most of the legitimate goaltending stop gap solutions went early in free agency this and losing Niemi could create the kind of hole in Chicago’s lineup that even its collection of superstars can’t plug this season.
Remember what happened to the Tampa Bay Lightning when Nikolai Khabibulin left after winning the Stanley Cup.
This Russian is coming, not going: Alexander Frolov signed a one-year deal with the New York Rangers for $3 million which seems like a bargain for a skilled 28-year-old forward who already has a couple of 30-goal seasons to his credit. Or at least a no-risk gamble.
Frolov has plenty of talent and showed several flashes of it during his time in Los Angeles, but fell out of favor with Kings coach Terry Murray last season and struggled enough to depress the market for his services as he hit free agency this summer. Still he had a lucrative offer from the KHL in Russia, but Frolov aid he was wanted to prove he can still play in the NHL.
Having that kind of motivated player around never hurts, especially on a short term contract so Frolov could end up being the kind of steal Maxim Afinogenov was last season for Atlanta, or at least a nice sidekick for Marian Gaborik. But Frolov’s problem is that he tends to disappear from time to time, which is why he ended up in the even-tempered Murray’s dog house. Should be interesting to see how he responds to the volatile coaching of John Tortorella in New York.
It rhymes with woosh: And starts with the letter ‘D.” You know the word and Pittsburgh’s Max Talbot, not excusing his French because he was speaking in English used it in a radio interview to describe Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. The Caps star hasn’t responded yet, but if you ever wondered how deep the disdain really is between these two teams, stop now. Pittsburgh and Washington has become the NHL’s most heated rivalry mainly because of the games within the games between Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, but the antipathy runs throughout both lineups. The only unfortunate part is that the conference rivals will never get to face off in the Stanley Cup Final, which is one reason the Winter Classic between them next January really should be must-see T.V. You can expect plenty of hype leading up to it too, maybe even some of it coming from players who might be tempted to follow Talbot and tell you how they really feel.
Ice Edge melting: The group is still the front-runner to buy the Phoenix Coyotes from the NHL, but Ice Edge lost its exclusivity negotiating window this week when it failed to provide the city of Glendale with all the documents required for its bid to re-work the arena lease with the city. That’s the most critical part of Ice Edge’s effort to keep the team where it is. Glendale officials are anxious to make it happen, lest they get stuck with an empty building they paid $183 million to build a few years ago, but understandably they want to make sure the suitors are capitalized properly. So far Ice Edge hasn’t been able to demonstrate that, although the group has been in and out of the picture for months. But as much as the NHL is desperate to find someone, anyone (other than Jim Balsillie of course) to take the team off its hands without relocating it, Ice Edge has been unable to close the deal. Meanwhile, a well-funded group from Winnipeg continues to lurk patiently in the background, ready to bring the franchise back to where it started. Don’t be surprised if that happens by the end of the year.