Hawks, goalie Niemi near hearing date

The Chicago Blackhawks' goaltending situation should become much clearer by the end of this week.

The Hawks and Stanley Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi are scheduled to go to arbitration on Thursday, and both sides on Tuesday were able to take a glimpse of the other's argument. Arbitration rules state that both sides will present their arguments in writing to the opposing side -- as well as the arbitrator -- 48 hours before the hearing.

"We exchanged briefs, and we'll take it from there," Niemi's agent Bill Zito said. "I imagine we'll keep talking."

If the Hawks decide to turn to a less-expensive free-agent goalie, Marty Turco could be a candidate.

"We're still talking to some big-time contenders," Turco's agent Kurt Overhardt said. " I wouldn't limit it to one team.

"He wants to play for a big-time contender in a great hockey city. It could be done by the end of the week, or it could be two weeks. Nothing is certain."

Turco already reportedly turned down an offer from Philadelphia for three years at $2 million per season.

The arbitrator is selected from a pool of eight who belong to the National Academy of Arbitrators. They are not necessarily hockey experts.

Evidence offered may include statistics, games played, injuries incurred, leadership qualities on and off the ice, the overall contribution of the player to the success or failure of the team, and the compensation of comparable players in the league.

Both sides will have 90 minutes to present their case and provide rebuttal. The Hawks and Niemi's camp can propose a salary to the arbitrator, but the final figure for the 26-year-old Finnish netminder will be whatever the arbitrator decides is fair.

A decision by the arbitrator has to be made within 48 hours of the close of the hearing. The award will be for a one-year contract. The Hawks then have 48 hours to accept the arbitrator's decision or "walk away" from it, making Niemi an unrestricted free agent immediately.

If the Hawks accept the decision, Niemi is immediately under contract for the salary, but he will be eligible to be traded. Niemi also can be traded before the arbitration hearing on Thursday.

Only one other time since the current collective bargaining agreement went into effect in 2005 have the Hawks gone to arbitration with a player. Before the 2006-07 season, winger Kyle Calder was awarded $2.95 million for one year. The Hawks promptly traded Calder two days later.

Jesse Rogers covers the Blackhawks for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.