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Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi reacts as he looks down during the first period of Game 1 of an NHL hockey Western Conference second-round playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks Saturday, May 1, 2010, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) (Nam Y. Huh)
Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi reacts as he looks down during the first period of Game 1 of an NHL hockey Western Conference second-round playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks Saturday, May 1, 2010, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) (Nam Y. Huh)

Niemi the latest victim of Hawks' cap woes Add to ...

The bad news is that the Blackhawks no longer have the services of Antti Niemi. The good news is that they are nearly, at long last, under the salary cap.

The only shoe left to drop is shipping out netminder Cristobal Huet, he of the $5.625-million a season deal. There are two options there: Send him to the AHL and eat the contract or work out some sort of a situation where he can play in Europe.

Either way, Huet's coming off the cap.

(Chicago GM Stan Bowman spoke today of promising rookie Corey Crawford serving as Marty Turco's backup, further reinforcing the fact Huet has likely played his last game in the NHL.)

Keeping that in mind, here's a breakdown how I see Chicago's salary cap situation working out, with the possibility of their youngsters filling in those holes on the third defence pairing.

As for the Turco for Niemi tradeoff: One source told me that this has been in the pipeline for at least a month, which explains why Turco was turning down other offers on the first two days in free agency. He wanted to play in Chicago, where he has a chance to win, and was willing to take a major paycut to do so. (He signed a one-year deal for $1.3-million, turning down multiyear contracts for more than double that per season.)

In that context, and given Chicago's cap situation, Niemi's $2.75-million deal was expendable. Bowman needed at least another $1-million in cap space to make things work, even without Huet, and by going with Turco, he finds another $1.45-million - enough cash that it keeps players like Patrick Sharp and others from getting dealt.

Niemi, meanwhile, is out of work for now, and with so few teams in need of a netminder, isn't likely to command all that much. Three interesting potential destinations are Philadelphia (which made a big pitch for Turco), Washington and San Jose, with the Flyers likely the most interested if they can free up the cap space.

The Capitals seem content with their two youngsters but do have the cap space to get a deal done if they want. I'm told the Sharks feel quite confident in their Niittymaki-Greiss combination, as curious as that is for one of the NHL's top teams.

Bowman said today that the organization had offered Niemi several contracts, including a multiyear deal, but none were apparently for as much as he and his agent, Bill Zito, were hoping for. Despite the fact he's coming off winning the Stanley Cup, I think he'll have a hard time getting more than $2-million in this environment.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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