No Surprise: Kovy and Niemi still free agents

Both Antti Niemi, the first Finnish Goaltender to win the cup (rookie year no less), and Ilya Kovalchuk, one of the league’s best scorers, are still free agents. Is this surprising? Not really.

We all thought Kovalchuk signed a contract with the New Jersey Devils. Unfortunately for both parties, the contract was turned down by the NHL. The NHL and arbitrator Richard Bloch came to the decision that the contract was constructed to evade the cap restrictions and was therefore illegal. He earned the large contract and the entire league knows it.

Knowing his talent level and his desire for a big contract, Kovalchuk will have trouble working out a contract wherever he goes. Owners look to build around players with his level of skill; starting over by refreshing the roster is hard to do when the player is signed out of free agency.

Kovalchuk has led his team in scoring, along with many other accomplishments as a forward. His next mission is to win the Stanley Cup. He is very devoted to this goal.

The Devils are always team players who work hard every game as a team (every team has those days where the feet don’t want to move). For the Devils’ style of play to happen, everyone on and off the ice must be a team player. Just as important, each player must be on the same wavelength as everyone else. A player with an attitude would stick out like a sore thumb, and would be cast from the system, no matter how talented the player is.

The surprise with Kovalchuk is that he started out in the league with the Atlanta Thrashers, a franchise that modeled the team around him. He was able to put any ego aside and be a New Jersey Devil, working towards fitting into the defensive style of play. Makes sense why the Devils want him to continue wearing the red, back, and white sweater.

Kovalchuk will probably be a Devil. He wants to win, and the Devils have been one missing piece away from winning the cup. What is the hold up? Put simply, the right contract.

Niemi is in the same pool as some other rookie goaltenders that posted notable playoff runs. A couple of those players include Dwayne Roloson and Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Since Roloson helped the Edmonton Oilers represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, he has not been so spectacular, currently backing up for Rick Dipietro with the Islanders. Giguere has a similar story. In 2003, he powered the Anaheim Mighty Ducks’ run at the cup, falling short against the New Jersey Devils in the finals. Now Giguere is no longer even a notable goaltender.

Is Niemi heading in the same direction or will he be successful as a starter elswhere? Did the excitement of a rookie season help him play better than should be expected of him during his career like Giguere and Roloson? Is it that he is expecting more money than he is worth after the cup win? Was it the Chicago Blackhawks’ defense that did the job, or the offense which masked his play, perhaps both?

As far as whats in store for Niemi’s future, who knows for sure? He could become better or he may become a dud. Based on some of the games he played in the regular season and the postseason, there is room for improvement. Also, he only played 39 regular season games for the Blackhawks, not exactly an impressive résumé. There is doubt whether he can lead a team through an entire season, let alone the regular season. Not worth the money.

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8 Responses to “No Surprise: Kovy and Niemi still free agents”

  1. Rolifan
    August 29, 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    Roloson was hardly a rookie goalie in 2006.

    In fairness to him, if you’ve watched the defence he’s been supported with the last 4 years, he’s been pretty spectacular and solid and continues to steal games.

    In addition, given that DiPietro is still trying to complete a comeback, and has only played 13 games over the past 2 seasons, there’s a better chance DiPietro will be backing up Roli this season than the other way around.

    Re Niemi – all very valid concerns/questions. I am curious, should he get a contract, to see how he makes out for a full season behind a team that is not as strong as the Hawks.

  2. Mitchell Schaffer
    August 30, 2010 at 12:27 am #

    The Islanders would like DiPietro to be their starter. Will he be? Knowing DiPietro’s injury history, Roloson will most likely be the starter. Roloson is their second choice, not a terrible one. He looks a little shakier than he did in 2006, barely noticeable. Could be because of the defense he is working with. He has not been as consistent as he was in 2006, also could be because of the defense.

  3. Samuel
    August 30, 2010 at 6:38 pm #

    Niemi not worth 2.75 million? I think that to be objective, one should compare Niemi to those goalies who actually won the cup on their rookie season instead of comparing him to those who didn’t. There’s a difference, you know…

  4. Mitchell Schaffer
    August 31, 2010 at 1:59 am #

    Niemi has not proven anything. He was decent enough given Chicago’s defense and offensive backing to win the cup. He didn’t show any value that would make any team want him as their starter. One goalie would be Cam Ward for Carolina. He’s been pretty good since then, no longer the spark that shined in 2006. Ward looked and looks much better than Niemi. Ward closed the door and won games himself. Chicago had way too many high scoring games to save Niemi. To consider signing him to start, especially for that amount may not be such a good move.

  5. Samuel
    August 31, 2010 at 9:30 am #

    “Niemi has not proven anything … He didn’t show any value that would make any team want him as their starter.”

    I have to disagree with that. The man had 4ht lowest GAA in regular season losing only to Miller, Brodeur and Rask and tied the 3rd position in SO’s, despite the fact that he only started in 35 games (which meant he had a shot out in every fifth game started).

    What I think is remarkable in Niemi is he’s ability to keep his head together when it really counts. The shutout pace is a one example and 3-1 record in playoffs overtimes and winning the cup on a first try are definitely another. Players ability to play on the highest level in the most important moments is truly a valuable thing for a team and in my eyes Niemi has certainly proven he can do that.

    What I am surprised of is that how many people seem to downgrade Niemi’s value by the basis of he’s bad performance in the following season(s). As far as I know, those games are not played yet and thus he’s value should rather be based on the performaces so far…

  6. ack
    September 1, 2010 at 12:56 am #

    I have issue with the lack of information provided about Giguere. You fail to mention the Conn Smythe as a member of the losing team in 2003. Most importantly, you skip ahead to now stating he isn’t a notable goaltender. This ignores the other little trophy he won after 2003 with the Ducks – the Stanley Cup. So, he hardly fits your mold of one bright flash and then folding.

    As for the opening half on Kovalchuk, I find it confusing. It doesn’t come across well and seems to be just a going over of the facts and the conclusion that he’s not signed because the right contract hasn’t been found yet. What’s the right contract?

    It also doesn’t look good when you state in the article that Roloson will be backing up DiPietro and then backpedal in a comment that it’ll probably be Roloson starting.

  7. Mitchell Schaffer
    September 1, 2010 at 3:53 am #

    Ideally the Islanders want DiPietro to start, making DiPietro the first choice not Roloson. Roloson is a backup. If DiPietro manages to be healthy, Roloson will see a lot more of the bench. I doubt DiPietro will be able to play all season without injury (based on his injury record). DiPietro is their number one choice and Roloson is number two. It is all about the way the Islanders look at it. Their best man for the job is DiPietro. If Roloson was that good, he’d be starting elsewhere, but he’s not. Had he been able to play like he did in 2006 he’d be a starter somewhere.
    Since 2003, Giguere has been less impressive than he was in his rookie season (even when he won the cup in 2007). The bottom line is that Giguere has not played on the same level as he did in 2003. The Ducks won because Giguere got the job done and the defense was incredible (more so than in 2003), offense was also pretty good. I’m a spoiled Devils fan that grew up watching Brodeur become arguably the greatest goaltender of all time. Therefore, I may be a little harsh.
    Kovalchuck’s situation is Strange. The point is that he found a team for which he wants to play, and the team offered him a contract. He fits into the Devils’ system which is important. The only thing keeping him from being a Devil is the contract. It is hard to pay him what he/his agent is/are asking for while staying under the cap. Free agency does that. Players who earn money like Kovy usually have a cheap team built around them, allowing for the large contracts. If the right contract is easy or even a little difficult to come up with, Kovy would be a Devil already.
    Samuel – I understand what you are saying. 35 games with a team as good as the Blackhawks doesn’t show anything. Shutouts are random. To really assess why he was able to pull off a shutout would mean analyzing the schedules and the games that took place around the shutouts of all teams involved. If the Blackhawks had three days off and their opponent came off a game that went into a shootout and then traveled across two time zones, the Hawks would be far fresher than their opponent. As far as playing in clutch moments during a game goes, he was excellent. When not in do or die situations he did not seem to be that good. Knowing that why would a team want to spend that much money on a questionable goalie? He hasn’t looked strong enough throughout the season and postseason to evaluate him as a goalie worth giving a starter’s salary. My point being that, why would a team invest that much money on Niemi who played less than half a season, played well behind a defensively very good team, had extra push to prove himself as a rookie, had the chance to become the first Finnish goalie to win the cup, and give up some less than impressive goals to the Flyers in the Finals? Maybe I’m harsh on him because I’m a spoiled Devils fan. Maybe the people who have not signed him are thinking along the same lines I am.
    The only other possibility is that every other team already has their starter. Which team should he play for? Would it be Tampa Bay or Los Angeles? Los Angeles had good year in net last year and seems to be happy with the goaltending performance. Tampa Bay has some expensive players already on the roster already, and Mike Smith may be good enough and $550,000 cheaper. Tampa is also looking down the business end of a few free agents at the end of this season, two being Stamkos and Gagne.

  8. David
    September 1, 2010 at 8:15 pm #

    Mitchel/Moshe- fantastic article!