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Loss of Niemi Upsets Chicago Blackhawks Fans; Why All The Trades Were Necessary

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Antti Niemi no longer a Chicago Blackhawk
Antti Niemi no longer a Chicago Blackhawk

On June 9, 2010, the city of Chicago erupted into deafening cheers and thunderous applause as the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals to become Stanley Cup Champions for the first time since 1961. That celebration quickly turned into desperation as fans watched in horror as their “favorite” players were traded one, by one, by one.

Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel were sent to the Atlanta Thrashers and would later welcome Cup-winning teammate Andrew Ladd. Colin Fraser was shipped off to the Edmonton Oilers, Kris Versteeg soon found himself on the Toronto Maple Leafs and Adam Burish became a Dallas Star. Many Hawks lovers flooded the team’s Facebook page pouting about the transactions and demanding to know why the management would disband such a successful team.

Sensible talks about former General Manager Dale Tallon’s contract snafus (ahem, Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet) and that damn NHL salary cap were ignored as bandwagon fans (and people who know little to nothing about the business of American professional hockey) continued to leave derogatory comments and deface the public forum where fans are encouraged to support the best team in Chicago. And then the “unthinkable” happened…

After the Hawks offered Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi $1.5 million, the Finnish netminder’s agent asked for upwards of $4 million. The team and Niemi’s agent hit a stalemate, sending the negotiations to an arbitrator who decided to split the difference and award the goalie $2.75 million. The Hawks now had the option of signing the beloved “Nemo” or letting him become an Unrestricted Free Agent. Fans anxiously awaited the Hawks’ decision for 48 miserable hours only to learn that Niemi was out and Marty Turco (of the Dallas Stars) was in…for $1 million less.

And what happened? You guessed it. Facebook users flocked to the Chicago Blackhawks fan page to voice their opinions and shame owner Rocky Wirtz and current GM Stan Bowman. Well, kiddos…here is why all these moves were necessary for the 2010-2011 season…

  • NHL salary cap. The Blackhawks struggle with existing expensive contracts (Campbell and Huet) that are pretty impossible to unload. You just can’t keep everyone and pay them what they deserve. And don’t forget about other factors like Toews’ bonus for winning the Conn Smythe Trophy (that’s the MVP trophy, kids). That cool $1.3 million counts against the cap.
  • NHL rules. No matter how many times you tell the Hawks Facebook page that some of the “core players” should take a pay cut to help a teammate keep his place on the team, the NHL does not allow the renegotiation of contracts. Period.
  • Pure idiocy. This is to all who said the Finnish Fortress should have received the same if not more than Huet was awarded ($5 mil). Just because the guy is a “fan favorite,” it doesn’t mean he’s earned a spot on the roster next season. It’s sad to see Niemi go, but a rookie (in the sense that this was his first crack at the NHL) goalie doesn’t deserve a $4.2 mil raise. That’s just crazy.

The list goes on and on, but what I am asking Hawks fan to do is be patient and understanding. The Hawks moved swiftly through the 2009-2010 season knowing they would have to make some tough decisions and unwillingly lose some players in the long run. This isn’t the NFL or MLB where an athlete is awarded $50 mil without ever having played a day of professional sports in his life. All in all, players come and go (which can be frustrating at times), but your commitment to the Indian should last forever. Stand by your team…don’t talk trash about it. LET’S GO BLACKHAWKS!