Include Panthers among Niemi suitors?

Saw this earlier in the morning (link courtesy of Spector's Hockey) and figured the inherent sheer lunacy of such a suggestion would remove it from our lives in short order, but that's not been the case:

"G Antti Niemi, an unrestricted free agent after the Chicago Blackhawks walked away from a $2.75-million arbitration award, is expected to sign before camp. It’s believed the Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and Sharks have interest."

- Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch

Of course there's the inevitable "Malkin-to-the-Kings" baggage which Garrioch will forever carry, but the quote was picked up by several outlets, most notably the NHL's own Home Ice Radio in their "Around the Rinks" segments throughout the day.

Spector's initial response? "The Panthers have Tomas Vokoun and Scott Clemmensen as their goalie tandem for the upcoming season." Couldn't have phrased it any finer myself. But still...

Cats GM Dale Tallon was the driving force behind bringing Niemi to the Blackhawks in May of 2008 in the first place, for whatever that's worth. Tallon - in so many words - publicly pledged to retain upcoming UFA goalie Tomas Vokoun as Florida's starter for the 2010-11 season after meeting with him during the IIHF World Championships in Germany. Jacob Markstrom has his spot cemented in Rochester. Oh, and there's the issue of a vastly improved Scott Clemmensen's remaining two years under contract, presumably to serve either under T-Vo or as mentor to Markstrom.

This certainly muddies what were previously crystal clear waters in net for the Panthers. However, what would a Niemi signing mean for Florida? First and foremost, it frees up Vokoun (and his $5.75M cap hit) for a trade far earlier than a widely anticipated deadline deal. It's an extraordinarily depressed market for goaltenders (witness Evgeni Nabokov's trek to the KHL, not to mention the current Stanley Cup -winning netminder we're now discussing) which no one anticipated. Getting "full value" for Vokoun - still heavily regarded as a major force among those at his position - simply isn't going happen, whether now or in February/March. Regardless, his name alone is worth a small bounty to a contending team, having performed ridiculously well on a subpar club.

If there are any legs to this rumor whatsoever, might fans be staring at a Niemi/Clemmer duo in goal come October? And what would Vokoun (who has a no-trade clause) likely fetch in return? Or is this all simply farce?

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