The Blackhawks shocked the hockey world late Friday night by working around the salary cap to re-sign Stanley Cup hero Antti Niemi to a three-year, two-part deal that will have him serve the dual role of goalie/Zamboni driver.
“Clearly Antti is a terrific goalie,” said Niemi’s agent Bill Zito. “But few people know he left behind a successful career as a Zamboni driver in Finland to pursue his playing career in the NHL.”
One portion of the contract pays him more than $3 million a year to become the highest-paid Zamboni driver in history and the other half pays him $500,000 a year to tend goal for the team.
The second part of the deal is what GM Stan Bowman called “buying the potato and getting the meat for free” as it only counts $500,000 against the cap per season. This solves two major issues confronting the Blackhawks: the salary cap and the poor United Center ice surface. Blackhawks fans will surely be excited by the new sheet of ice Niemi will begin laying in the next few weeks and the good tandem in net he’ll make with newly signed all-star goalie Marty Turco.
In an unfortunate twist, current Blackhawks Zamboni driver Stephen McCoy has been fired to make room for Niemi. McCoy quickly filed a grievance with Teamsters Union Local 705, and is believed to be seeking an arbitration hearing. The NHL is yet to approve the deal and may seek to have its own hearing if they believe this deal was made to intentionally circumvent the salary cap.
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