Will Antti Niemi hit pay dirt following his Stanley Cup run? Jaroslav Halak turned a pretty good season and a fantastic playoffs into a huge contract ($3.75 million average). The other side of that, of course, is the lack of goaltending spots available in today's NHL -- a situation that led to Marty Turco acting as Niemi's cheap replacement for the Chicago Blackhawks and veteran Evgeni Nabokov bolting for the KHL. So what will Niemi ultimately wind up with?
It's the season of the low-cost goalie, but Niemi's in one of the most unique situations we've ever seen. Here's a guy who's essentially an NHL rookie with only 37 total regular season career starts along with a Stanley Cup. In recent history, it's difficult to come with a comparable. Let's take a look at a few situations since the lockout ended that might help gauge Niemi's value:
Jaroslav Halak: Halak certainly made a name for himself following an incredible playoff run -- all in all, probably more incredible than Niemi's. This earned Halak a job as a full-time NHL started for the St. Louis Blues, along with a new cap hit of $3.75 million per year. Now, keep in mind that Niemi currently only has 37 regular season starts and 42 regular season games played. Halak's NHL history breaks down as follows:
06-07: 16 GP
07-08: 6 GP
08-09: 34 GP
09-10: 45 GP
Halak was arguably the best goaltender in the Stanley Cup playoffs and he has more than double Niemi's NHL experience. Of course, he doesn't have the big prize, but you have to think that if you cut-and-pasted his stellar performance over to the Chicago Blackhawks' playoff run, the end result would be the same.
Mike Smith: Obviously, Mike Smith's situation is a lot more cloudy now that he's battled injuries for two years. But back when the Tampa Bay Lightning unloaded Brad Richards' salary for Smith, there was a lot of talk that it could be a mutually beneficial deal -- and for a while, Smith performed despite constantly being under siege with loads of poor defensive play in front of him. In 2006-07, Smith played 23 games behind Marty Turco, and in 2007-08, Smith played a combined 34 games for the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning. Smith's reward for that play was a two-year deal average $2.2 million.
Going into his contract negotiation, even Smith had more NHL experience than Niemi -- though if you factored in Niemi's playoff totals, it's roughly the same amount of hockey played. And of course, Smith didn't do it during the rigors of the Stanley Cup playoffs, nor did he capture the ultimate prize.
Craig Anderson: Craig Anderson was one of the other goaltending stories of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Where did he come from? From 2002 to 2006, Anderson was the backup in Chicago with pretty awful stats over 56 games. Of course, just about everyone that played in Chicago during that time had pretty awful stats. From 2006-07 to 2009-10, Anderson played 124 games for the Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche and his stats were fairly consistent. In his final season before hitting paydirt, Anderson played 31 games for the Panthers, earning a two-year deal with a $1.8 million cap hit for the Avalanche. Anderson comes with more experience than Niemi, though his history of being a career back-up certainly brought a wait-and-see approach that paid off. Expect Anderson's next contract to be much bigger than this one.
How good is Niemi? He had one fantastic round (vs. the San Jose Sharks), one good round (vs. the Philadelphia Flyers), and two up-and-down rounds (vs. the Nashville Predators and the Vancouver Canucks). Despite being bulletproof against the Sharks, Niemi let up soft goals in every other round, and it's difficult to gauge his true worth as a goaltender over such a short span. Cam Ward had one a full season under his belt, Jaroslav Halak played more NHL games, Mike Smith didn't have the playoff success, and Anderson was known more as a career back-up.
Perhaps the safest comparable is Ward, despite Ward's full season following the Cup run. Ward's cap hit came in at $2.66 million for three years while Niemi's arbitration award was $2.75 million. If you factor in cap inflation over the past few seasons, along with the fact that Niemi's resume at time of signing wasn't as much as Ward's, then perhaps a similar deal to Ward's is fair.
In short, despite some of the wild arbitration awards given out this season (hello, Clarke MacArthur), Niemi's deal is pretty spot on. Now that he has his pick of teams, expect Niemi to see a healthier market than what veterans like Nabokov and Turco dealt with thanks to Niemi's age. Still, would you commit long-term to a goaltender that really only has one year of NHL experience? Plenty of NHL goalies have had strong debuts, only to flame out years later -- just ask Andrew Raycroft about that.
Three years and $8 million seems reasonable. However, I get the feeling that some NHL GM is going to wind up ponying up a lot more.
What should Antti Niemi's cap hit be?
$1.5 - 2 million (212 votes)
$2 - $2.5 million (249 votes)
$2.5 - $3 million (189 votes)
$3 - $3.5 million (75 votes)
725 total votes