Hossa Marries, Skille Signs, Smitty Splits, Niemi Notes and movie star supports Blackhawks

Marian Hossa was married in Slovakia on Saturday.  Story and pics here.  (thanks to reader Dave for link) 

– While the Blackhawks have made no official announcement yet, Adam Jahns of the Sun-Times reported Thursday that Jack Skille has agreed to a one-year contract that will pay him $600,000.  This is roughly a 29% pay decrease from his entry-level contract.  We talked about this on Thursday’s TTMI~Radio. 

Skille received a qualifying offer (standard 1-year offer at 110% rate of prior year’s salary) in late June but chose to negotiate down to give himself a more cap-friendly contract.  Because of it, Skille is now an odds-on favorite to make the NHL club.  His speed and shooting ability still make the 23 year old an enticing prospect, but he’s never shown an ability to apply those tools in the NHL, the way he has in the minors.  Before Viktor Stalberg‘s arrival, Skille was the natural replacement for Versteeg.  Skille can throw his weight around, but its not his strength and he’s been overwhelmed going that route when with the Hawks.  He figures in as a third-line guy, which means he has to score.  Trouble is, as a shooter, he’s predictable and one-dimensional.  To be successful, he must go into the danger areas and score dirty goals.  He did a better job of that last year than ever before, when he was mostly a perimeter player.  Depending on how close Stan Bowman cuts his roster under the cap, training camp may still wind down to a battle between Kyle Beach and Skille for that third-line spot.  Skille isn’t a fourth line player and Beach will start in Rockford if he cant win a spot with the top three lines.

– According to published reports, and also still unannounced, Russian winger Igor Makarov, 22, signed a two-year, two-way contract with the Hawks last week.  His cap hit (unconfirmed) is said to be $552,000.  Makarov needs a little work and will start in the AHL with Rockford.  He was an exciting prospect, but his progression has been stunted in limited playing time in the KHL the past two seasons.  Makarov will turn 23 in September.  In the times I’ve seen him, he’s shown to have a great shot and reasonably quick release.  There are a lot of politics involved in who does and who doesn’t get ice time in Russia, but you’d think if Makarov’s talents were at the level of an NHL-er or at least a top prospect, he’d have been given much more playing time.

Antti Niemi‘s agent Bill Zito has been making the rounds on local sports talk outlets indicating he and Stan Bowman are working at getting Niemi a contract outside of arbitration.  Zito believes they have a strong case but would like to avoid a hearing.  Well, they avoid it if the Hawks give them as much or more than what they think they’re going to get.  Niemi’s arbitration hearing is July 29th.  A ruling wont be known for another week afterwards.  Zito also says (what else is he going to say?) that Niemi wants to remain a Hawk.  As we’ve noted previously, Niemi turns 27 next month and thus would be an un-restricted free agent next summer should he go through the arbitration process (and the Hawks accept whatever ruling) or should he agree to a one-year deal otherwise.  For the Hawks to get Niemi locked down under a longer-term, they’ll have to make it worth his while.  Goaltenders got slammed this summer in free agency, but who’s to say the market won’t be different in 2011?  Evgeni Nabokov couldn’t find the money he wanted here, so he went to the KHL in Russia.  Dan Ellis, who is thought of as this summer’s Craig Anderson in some circles, signed with Tampa for two years at $1.5M a year, less than he was earning in Nashville.  Chris Mason, the Blues’ starter in 2009-10, got $1.85M for two years in Atlanta.  And Michael Leighton (who, keep in mind, who was Brian Boucher’s back up before Boucher’s injury) got $1.55M for two years in Philly.

Niemi is mostly being compared to Jaroslav Halak, also a restricted free agent before agreeing to a four-year deal with the Blues worth $15M ($3.75M cap hit).  Halak has a slightly larger body of work, but Niemi won a Cup.  While the Zito/Niemi alliance is eyeing Halak’s number, more realistically they have to be thinking a ruling is more likely to come in between $2.5 to $3.0M.  They could probably be had with a two-year offer in that range because the list of 2011 un-restricted free agent goalies currently includes Ilya Bryzgalov (Phx), Tomas Vokoun (Fla), Craig Anderson (Avs) and J-S Giguere (Tor).  With the possible exception of Anderson, all those goalies figure to be on the move.  Niemi is three years younger than Bryzgalov and a little more than two years Anderson’s junior.  But as exhibited this summer, goaltending jobs have never been harder to find than this summer.  All but a few teams have a definitive number one and because of overspending and cap-encumbrances, teams are choosing to spend less on the position or promote from within.  Furthermore, the one-year route is a risky propostion for Niemi.  He was very good in the regular season and playoffs but he was more a benifactor of Cristobal Huet’s instability than anything else.  Niemi was out-performed by Corey Crawford in Rockford two years back and Crawford will start the 2010-11 season as Niemi’s backup unless something major transpires between now and then.  It could easily happen again.  If Zito can negotiate a 2-3 year deal at around three million a season, it may be the best option for his client understanding that unless Niemi has a Vezina-like season, the big money will likely be disbursed elsewhere in un-restricted free agency next summer.  Also, with the Hawks top-four intact and blue liners like Olsen and Lalonde not far behind, there aren’t many better jobs between the pipes around the league than here in Chicago.

– For what its worth, I expect this to be an active week in Blackhawks Nation.

Steve Smith, former Hawks’ defenseman who was drafted and won three Stanley Cups with Edmonton, resigned from his pro scouting position with the Hawks late last week to take a job as assistant coach with the Oilers under Tom Renney.  Another long-time Oiler, Kelly Buchberger, was retained as the other assistant. Smith had been with the Hawks the past two seasons.  His only coaching experience was briefly with Calgary in 1997 during his first retirement.  Renney is taking over for Pat Quinn, who was unexpectly removed as Oilers’ coach before the draft.

– Todd Nelson, who coached the Chicago Wolves to a Turner Calder Cup (AHL Championship) in 2008, was hired by the Edmonton Oilers to coach their new farm-team, the brand new AHL organization, Oklahoma City Barons last Thursday.

Chris Chelios’s sons Jake and Dean to be teammates at Michigan State this year.  [Detroit Free Press]  Both were on the ice at the Detroit Red Wings prospect camp last week.  Neither brother has a NHL affiliation.

– While they have yet to sign him, the Red Wings official web site has an article citing head coach Mike Babcocks assertion that the team will make Mike Modano a Red Wing soon.

“Blackhawks Night” at US Cellular Field: Friday August 27th vs NYY  Press Release  The night will be themed and tuned to “Mullet-style” music.  That should be interesting.  I was informed over the weekend that the White Sox annually hold a “mullet night” and this will serve as this season’s.

– Comcast Sports Net caught up with Jeremy Roenick Friday after the former Hawks’ great spent a long day out on the links.  Question: Is it really necessary for Chicago to hear J.R.’s garbled thoughts on every team related matter?  Love Roenick, but he needs to pick his spots better.  And so should CSN. 
Video: Roenick says Hawks must show Niemi $$$, respect

Actor Gerard Butler sporting his Blackhawks Stanley Cup Champions hat in Detroit over the weekend  [Just Jared]

Vince Vaughan and Kris Versteeg whooping it up at the Calgary Stampede Friday night  [Calgary Herald]

In cased you missed it, Jonathan Toews will have a Manitoba lake re-named in his honour in the near future.  Not everyone is thrilled about it.  The controversy essentially begins and ends with the usual province policy of re-naming lakes after fallen Manitoba military.
Fallen soldier’s family irked by NHL player-named lake  CTV.ca
More on this here  Greg Wyshynski, Yahoo! Puck Daddy
Let’s put the great lake debate to bed  Randy Turner, Winnipeg Free Press

Story on Lockport’s own Kevin Lind, who was drafted by Anaheim last month  [SouthtownStar]
- Lind will play for the Tri-City Storm in the USHL this coming season.  He has committed to the University of Notre Dame and is scheduled to join them beginning with the 2011-12 season.  The story says his family has owned Blackhawks season tickets since 1989 and includes Lind’s comments on being passed over by his favorite team.

Craig Muni, former Blackhawks, Oilers defenseman, turns 48 today.  Muni came to the Hawks from Edmonton in a deal for Mike Hudson at the trade deadline in 1993.  The year the Blackhawks won the Norris division, but promptly was swept from the playoffs in the division semi-final (1st playoff round) by Curtis Joseph and the St. Louis Blues.  The Blues would then go on to lose to the Maple Leafs in seven games, who lost to Los Angeles in seven in the conference final.

– Since I mentioned him on the radio show recorded Friday, I’ll go ahead and note this here.  David Koci signed with the Blackhawks as a free agent (coming from the Penguins organization) four years back this past Saturday.  Koci is still employed in the NHL, with Colorado, and has aspirations of being a model back home both now and when his career ends.

Valeri Zelepukin was signed by the Hawks ten years ago yesterday.  Another mistake.

Steve “Stumpy” Thomas, whose son Christian was drafted 40th overall by the NY Rangers last month, became a Blackhawk for the second time by signing in free agency on July 18, 2001.  He played in parts of two seasons following before being traded to Anaheim near the trade deadline in 2003 where he played in all 21 games of the Ducks playoff run ending in a 4-3 series loss to New Jersey.  He finished his playing career a year later scoring 10 goals in 44 games with the Red Wings the season before the lockout.  Thomas played in 19 NHL seasons, posted 421 goals 933 points.  He appeared in 334 regular season games with Chicago, scoring 110 goals and 120 assists.  Thomas came to Chicago in the deal that sent Al Secord and the great Ed Olczyk to Toronto on September 3, 1987.  The Hawks also received Bob McGill and Rick Vaive in that deal.  Ironically, the Hawks would reacquire both Secord and Olczyk years later.  Steve Thomas was first traded away by the Hawks in the deal that brought back with it Brent Sutter less than a month into the 91-92 season when the Hawks went to the Cup Finals against the Penguins.

ChrisBlock@TheThirdManIn.com

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