Blackhawks’ Niemi goes to arbitration, Ladd signs

There were expected to be two high-profile NHL arbitration cases on Thursday but one of those players signed a deal shortly before his meeting.

While the Atlanta Thrashers were inking forward Andrew Ladd, the Chicago Blackhawks weren’t as fortunate and will be biting their nails to the bone while they await an answer that will come on Saturday concerning how large a salary bump goaltender Antti Niemi will be awarded.

Niemi, who led the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup championship in 49 years, and the team sat through an arbitration hearing Thursday morning, a hearing that is expected to cause Chicago GM Stan Bowman more salary cap headaches.

Chicago GM Stan Bowman said after Saturday’s ruling comes down, his team will have 48 hours to accept the increased salary figure, trade the goalie with the new salary number or just let Niemi go entirely as a free agent.

After winning the cup, Niemi is expected to walk away with a contract near or over the $2 miilion mark after making just $800,000 last season.

“To be simplistic it’s going to depend on what the number is,” Bowman said. “Basically, our cap situation is tight, as is probably well documented. That will drive the boat. We have plans mapped out, strategies based on how to go, but it’s hard to speculate on any of that.”

While Chicago anticipates the outcome of their situation with Niemi, the Thrashers can relax after re-signing their restricted free agent forward Ladd to a one-year deal to avoid the arbitration sit-down.

Ladd, 24, appeared in all 82 games for the Chicago Blackhawks last season, posting 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists).  He registered a career-high in goals (17), ranked third on the club in even-strength goals and was eighth in points.  Ladd earned his first career NHL hat trick on March 7 vs. Detroit and added six points (three goals, three assists) in 19 Stanley Cup Playoff games, while helping the Blackhawks capture the 2010 Stanley Cup Championship.

The 6-2, 200-pound left wing has registered 149 points (63 goals, 86 assists) in 321 career games with Chicago and Carolina and brings 53 games of experience to the Thrashers young roster. In those 53 playoff games, Ladd has tallied 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) and been on two championship teams, the 2006 Hurricanes and last year’s Blackhawks.

Ladd was originally selected by Carolina in the first round, fourth overall, of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

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