The Antti Niemi arbitration hearing is still a couple weeks away. There’s no guarantee the case will even be heard as the Hawks and Niemi could settle before then. However, there are few things that need to be said because there’s a lot of misinformation out there.
First of all, the confusion over the Jaroslav Halak contract has caused people to find the nearest rooftop and question the meaning of existence. Halak’s cap hit of $3.75 million is utterly meaningless. His contract escalates significantly the final two years of his contract because the Blues bought out his first two years of unrestricted free agency. The more important numbers to look at are the $2.75 million he’s getting paid this year and the $3.5 million the following year.
Sparing everyone the comparison between the two players (mostly because whatever I say can be equally disputed by someone else. Kind of why this is headed to an arbitrator to begin with.), the Hawks big decision before the hearing will be deciding whether to request a one-year or two-year contract for Niemi. Since Niemi and his agent Bill Zito took the Hawks to arbitration, it’s on the the Hawks to choose whether they want the terms of the deal to be one or two years.
It’s a fairly big decision for the Hawks.
If they choose two years, Niemi wins the arbitration, and subsequently craps the bed this season, they’re stuck with two goalies making multi-millions for 2011-2012 season all while chewing up significant cap space. If they choose one year and Niemi is superb, then they run the risk of losing him to next summer’s free agency as there will surely be a suitor for him.
As for the figures both parties are looking for, if Zito and Niemi are expecting to get paid upwards of $4 million as has been suggested, that is simply ludicrous. I fail to see how an arbitrator could rule in their favor in that case. Halak is currently the highest paid restricted free agent goalie at $2.75 million (I believe Hiller’s deal bought out the remainder of his restricted years. Feel free to dispute that however.). He has played in 50 more career games than Niemi, has better numbers…..oh here I go comparing the two when I promised I wouldn’t.
They would be far more prudent to be looking for something around that 2.75 area code.
The Hawks, on the other hand, are probably looking for a number hovering around the $2 million mark. As stated above, the years are the bigger decision for the Hawks. The salary they’ve probably already had in mind for some time.
So there it is. For now.