Hawks goalie Antti Niemi went to arbitration this past Tuesday. This case represents that changing face of arbitration.
Before the salary cap was put in place, we would often see a team take a player to arbitration if there was a dispute over the perceived value of that player (please see Harry Sinden's Dear Diary entries for examples).
Now, with the pressures of the salary cap bearing down on teams, NHL clubs may not necessarily disagree with the worth of a player; however, they are taking players to arbitration as part of an overall strategy to manage the salary cap.
So it's becoming less about a dispute over a player's worth and more about managing the cap.
In the case of Niemi, the Hawks may walk away from the goalie if the award is somewhere north of $2.5 to $3 million. If they do walk, they may zero in on Jose Theodore as a possible replacement. There are also rumblings that they may try and make room for Niemi by trading Tomas Kopecky and his $1.2 million dollar salary. It's unclear where all this leaves Patrick Sharp.
It is clear, however, that the pressures of the salary cap have left the Hawks without Stanley Cup winning teammates Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Colin Fraser, Adam Burish, John Madden and recently acquired Marty Reasoner.