Hawks' decision: Can Niemi or Huet capture a Cup?

Posted2/17/2010 12:01 AM
  • After four straight starts, will the Blackhawks keep Antti Niemi in goal for the stretch run and the playoffs once the Olympic break ends? Or was he showcased for a trade?

    After four straight starts, will the Blackhawks keep Antti Niemi in goal for the stretch run and the playoffs once the Olympic break ends? Or was he showcased for a trade? Associated Press file

With Antti Niemi getting the last four starts before the Olympic break it certainly opened the door for all kinds of theories and speculation.

Is Niemi now the Blackhawks' No. 1 goalie? Let's just call him 1A for now.

Did the Hawks have a particular motive in mind by going with Niemi those four games, or was it as simple as coach Joel Quenneville claimed, that he was just staying with the hot goalie? Only Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman know the answer to that question, and they'll never say.

Did the Hawks want to see exactly what Niemi could do with a heavy workload ahead of the March 3 trade deadline before proceeding in addressing their most important position?

If that was the case, the Hawks saw what they have seen all season - Niemi making big saves at critical times to win games.

Sure, he left a few rebounds that wound up in the net in losing leads against Atlanta and Columbus, but Niemi came up big when the game was in the line.

Niemi stopped 11 of 12 attempts in three shootouts last week, earning the Hawks 3 additional points to bring them closer to San Jose.

Nevertheless, we don't know if Niemi can get the Hawks through four rounds in the Stanley Cup playoffs, just as we don't know if Cristobal Huet can do it. Bowman doesn't know. Neither does Quenneville.

What we do know is Niemi gives the Hawks the best chance to win games right now so he should keep getting the majority of starts when the schedule resume March 2 on Long Island.

Quenneville knows this too or we would have seen Huet in Columbus.

What Bowman and his staff need to be asking themselves in the days leading up to March 3 is this: Is there a goalie available, such as Marty Turco, better than what the Hawks have?

It's a difficult question and an even tougher one to answer. There's a lot to like about Turco, but what would it cost the Hawks - a first-round draft pick or top prospect? Would you give that up for a better chance to win the Stanley Cup?

Turco is 34 years old with a career playoff record of 21-26 and .914 save percentage. He is a battle-tested, elite goaltender who took the Dallas Stars to the Western Conference finals in their last playoff appearance in 2007-08.

Remember this: You wouldn't need Turco to come here and steal playoff games. You just need a guy who won't give them away.

What about Bob?

What will Anaheim general manager Bob Murray do at the trade deadline? That's what a lot of GMs will be trying to find out during the Olympic break.

The Ducks are 11th in the Western Conference, but only 2 points out of eighth place. So is Murray going to keep defenseman Scott Niedermayer or put Team Canada's captain up for bid before March 3?

With Niedermayer headed for unrestricted free agency or possibly even retirement, the smart money is on Murray moving him provided Niedermayer gives his OK.

The Hawks are interested, and why wouldn't they be? You don't think Stan Bowman wouldn't love to roll the dice in the payoffs with a defense of Niedermayer, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Kim Johnsson?

The Vancouver Canucks want Niedermayer badly. And don't count out New Jersey, Niedermayer's old team and where his brother Rob plays.

The quote

Hawks winger Patrick Kane when asked what U.S. Olympians from other sports he'd like to meet in Vancouver.

"Probably Apolo Ohno, Shaun White and that snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler is a pretty good-looking girl," Kane said.

Around the rinks

• The Red Wings reached the Olympic break in 10th place in the Western Conference and out of a playoff spot. Of Detroit's final 21 games, 12 are at home.

• Washington is in an identical spot as the Hawks. Do they trust goalies Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov or go after perhaps Marty Turco at the deadline? Many believe the Caps are eyeing Turco.

• Just about everyone is available in Florida, including goalie Tomas Vokoun, forwards Nathan Horton and David Booth, and defensemen Dennis Seidenberg and Jordan Leopold.

• The Blue Jackets are looking to deal gritty winger Raffi Torres, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer.

The list

Who would have thought these five teams would be where they are at the Olympic break.

1. Ottawa Senators

First in the Northeast Division at 36-23-4 despite a summer of turmoil created by Dany Heatley's trade demand.

2. Phoenix Coyotes

Fourth in the West, they would open at home if the playoffs started today.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets

They've taken a giant step backwards (14th in the West) after making the playoffs last spring.

4. Colorado Avalanche

The Avs are so young, but tied with Vancouver for first place in the Northwest Division thanks to goalie Craig Anderson.

5. Detroit Red Wings

Currently out of a playoff spot, the Red Wings are going to get it together. Aren't they?

Ex-Hawk of the week

The Los Angeles Kings are 37-20-4 at the break with center Michal Handzus playing a key role in their resurgence with 15 goals and 18 assists.

Handzus is one of five former Hawks participating in the Olympics. There's Handzus (Slovakia), Martin Havlat (Czech Republic), Sammy Pahlsson (Sweden), Tuomo Ruutu (Finland) and Lasse Kukkonen (Finland).