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Hawks give no indications on Niemi decision

Sunday, 08.01.2010 / 5:38 PM / 2010 Offseason News

By Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

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Hawks give no indications on Niemi decision
CHICAGO -- Considering who was scheduled to speak, you'd have thought the Chicago Hilton's Continental Ballroom would be packed on Sunday morning at the annual Blackhawks fan convention.

Instead, the room was about half full for legendary NHL coach and Hawks Senior Adviser of Hockey Operations Scotty Bowman and his son, Hawks General Manager Stan Bowman. The pair took questions about a wide range of topics, but spent a good amount of time talking about the team's roster upheaval this summer for salary-cap reasons.

Addressed during the session was the ongoing situation with restricted free agent goalie Antti Niemi, whose arbitration award is $2.75 million for next season if the Hawks agree to pay it. Chicago must decide by Monday what to do with Niemi, and the younger Bowman -- who didn't meet with reporters -- told fans the team's front office would gather on Sunday to make a collective decision.

"At this point I think we meet as a staff," he said. "We do things together. That's the way we've done it all year long. It's not a one-man show. We have a collection of opinions. I don't know if there's one specific point to get across (about Niemi). It's just that there are options, more than anything. There's always options in every decision."

The Hawks' options in regard to Niemi are well-documented, but boil down to three choices. They can agree to the $2.75 million for next season and try to make it work while keeping their bulging payroll under the League's $59.4 million salary cap. They can agree and then trade Niemi. Or they can walk away from the award and make Niemi an unrestricted free agent.

"You have to weigh what it would take, what it would do to your team in terms of (flexibility) if you decide to keep him -- if maybe you have to move somebody else along -- or if you have to make a decision to go in another direction," Stan Bowman said. "There are pluses and minuses to both of those strategies. There's no one right way to do it. But we're going to all think about it and we'll come up with the right decision."

Still, there appeared to be some potential clues as to which way the Hawks might be leaning.

"One guy does not make a team here," Stan Bowman said in summing up his Niemi comments. "We've got a lot of great players and we're going to be ready come October to defend the Cup, and we're going to work on making sure we get it right."

He also said it's time to find out what the Hawks have in 25-year old goalie Corey Crawford, who's spent five years in the minors since being drafted by Chicago in the second round (No. 52) of the 2005 Entry Draft. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Crawford has played a total of eight games in the NHL over three seasons, posting a 1-3 record with a save percentage of .915 and a 2.60 goals-against average.

"It's really difficult for young goaltenders to just jump into the League," Stan Bowman said. "That's why we tried to really go slow with Corey. He's spent a number of years developing in our system, and I think the time is now for him to get an opportunity to show us what he can do."
The younger Bowman said that he likes Crawford's size and positioning.

"He's a very technically sound player," Bowman said. "He's a big guy. He takes up a lot of the net. And in today's game, the way these goalies play, you have to have the size to cover the net. He's certainly had a chance to learn his craft in the minor leagues. He's carried the load down there year after year. I think it's time for him. That's one of the things we're looking forward to, is you have to give players an opportunity."

Crawford was invited to the fan convention, but declined so he could attend a wedding. Stan Bowman didn't specify whether Crawford's shot to play more with the Hawks would likely be in a starting or backup role. Rumors have linked the Hawks to unrestricted free agent goalie Marty Turco, who will turn 35 this month.

Turco is seeking a contending team and would likely cost less than what Niemi was awarded. Still, walking away from a 26-year old Stanley Cup winner like Niemi will be hard to swallow for Hawks' fans, players and coaches alike.

"He means a lot to our team and we'll see what happens going forward," coach Joel Quenneville said during a Sunday panel discussion with fans. "Hopefully we're able to keep him, but we've obviously got some tough decisions to make."
"You have to weigh what it would take, what it would do to your team in terms of (flexibility) if you decide to keep him -- if maybe you have to move somebody else along -- or if you have to make a decision to go in another direction.  There are pluses and minuses to both of those strategies. There's no one right way to do it. -- Stan Bowman on Antti Niemi decision
Scotty Bowman compared the team's situation this summer to what happened when Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup in 2003-04 and then signed a group of young stars to big contracts. Once the salary cap came into existence with the new collective bargaining agreement in 2005, some of those puzzle pieces for the Lightning had to be dealt off piecemeal to different teams.

Bowman said the difference in Chicago is that the Hawks' core group remains intact.

"New players are going to come in, and not every player is going to be replaceable, but the core is still very strong," the elder Bowman said. "That's the fortunate part. A lot of teams don't have that core."

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