Preparing The Ground
McClure and I were remarking last night how impressed we've been at the level-headedness of our readers when it came to Antti Niemi, his restricted free agency, and his upcoming arbitration hearing. Most of you were cautious not to break the bank on him, and comfortable with the alternatives.
And yet, I feel the need to prepare everyone for the outcome that Antti-goal is not going to be here next year. Al Cimiglia wrote a great piece about it yesterday. What he's hearing doesn't lend anyone confidence, and really there's no way it should. In reality, the Hawks cannot bring back Niemi for a number greater than 1.5 million, if they want to have any flexibility at all, even the minimal that would provide. There's no way agent Bill Zito is going to accept that. Secondly, the Hawks could go into the hearing with that as their offer. But with the fact that the arbitrator merely picks one side's number or the other (I think that's how it works, correct me if I'm wrong), if the Hawks came in with too low of a number that at arbitrator could justify choosing, he'll go to Niemi's which the Hawks brass would run screaming from.
Add to this that if Cimiglia is right, and Marty Turco is willing to come here for that 1.5 number (or lower), and the smart-hockey move here is to go the latter route. In my mind, Turco or Niemi in net are the same thing. Both are goalies that won't win you a lot of games by themselves but will thrive behind a well above average defense, facing minimal shots per night (in fact Turco was at his best in just this scenario). Also, the thought of Turco grabbing the puck behind the net and starting the breakout himself could lead to some serious firewagon stuff. Say Turco does sign here for between 1 and 1.5, and Hendry comes back at what we assume was his price last year. You'd have enough room to keep Beach up with the big club if he earns it (and I think he will). You'd still have enough cap room to sign another veteran d-man to protect Turco (in order to protect Marty we must turn Jay Mc-KEE!). You could carry another forward. I'll give you two stat lines from last year, and you tell me which one was accrued behind the best defense in the league, and which one was behind an average at very best and that's giving them the best of it Dallas blue line:
.913 SV% 2.72 GAA 30 shots per game.
.912 SV% 2.25 GAA 24 Shots per game.
Pretty easy to figure out, right? Well, what if Niemi had seen 30 shots per game in his 39 appearances? His GAA would have been 2.65 with the same SV%.
Barring what I would categorize as a contract negotiation miracle (without the feats of strength and airing of grievances), it just makes more hockey sense to sign Turco for cheap. This is just my theory, but I bet if Stan Bowman wasn't worried about the PR backlash, this probably would have been done already. But he needs the hearing to go badly, or the negotiations to break down so he can say to the media and fans, "What can I do?".
But hey, I'm just a bald guy with some thoughts...