Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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Finding Niemi

As I write this, the professional fate of Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi is swimming somewhere amid the seaweed of several tangled uncertainties. The immediate question to be answered is the decision of the arbitrator on what Niemi’s salary next year should be. We should learn the answer to that sometime tomorrow, probably before you read this, but I think the area I want to explore today will still be valid, especially since the arbitrator’s decision will hardly settle the matter; it will probably only move us to the next stage of uncertainty.

There are a lot of people whose primary or only interest in this matter is how it will affect the Hawks’ goaltending situation in the upcoming season. While that is an intriguing question, my primary interest is in the psychology of the matter with regard to the principal players.

There is a particular step in the preparation for arbitration that I’d like to assume Antti Niemi has already gone through. It may have come from his agent, or another player, or some other personal contact; perhaps even a friend or family member. The way I hear it in my head, it goes something like this:

“Yes, you know you’re going to make your case and management is going to make their case, and then the arbitrator is going to make his/her ruling. And you’ve probably already thought about the fact that you may hear some disparaging remarks made about your performance, and you’re ready to take them with a grain of salt because you understand that nothing is really personal in that room; it’s all business in there.

“But there’s another level to the business of arbitration that you also have to think about. Just like the game you’re paid to play, there’s going to be a winner and a loser, and you need to be ready to deal with either role. If you’re the winner and the team accepts the ruling, it will be easy for you to shake Mr. Bowman’s hand and get on with your career. But you also have to be prepared to lose. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that you have a strong case and the amount you’re asking for is completely fair. That doesn’t mean the arbitrator will see it that way. For whatever arbitrary (if I may use the term) reason, they may side with management. And if they do, you HAVE to be ready to shake Mr. Bowman’s hand and get on with your career, just as if the ruling had been in your favor.

“If you think you can do that, then you’re ready to go through this process. But be sure. There are plenty of guys out there who have lost arbitration cases and gotten along very well afterward. If you lose your case, you need to be like them. Remember that either way, it’s a one-year deal. Either way, you need to go out and be a stud in goal in the year to come so that your salary for that season becomes a mere footnote in your glorious career.”

I can’t help but think about the Little League team that gets beaten badly on the field – children crying, adults seething – and then they all go Friendly’s afterward for an ice cream party and everyone has a blast. Win or lose, when this is all settled, I think Antti Niemi needs to plan a trip to Friendly’s.
Tags: hockey, niemi

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