Blackhawks demote Niemi, Khabibulin stays for now Staff

10/7/2008 6:53:26 PM

The Chicago Blackhawks sent goaltender Antti Niemi to Rockford of the American Hockey League on Tuesday, opening the possibility of the team starting the season with Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin.

Khabibulin is expected return to the team this week and resume practising, and could possibly play at some point. He hasn't appeared in any of Chicago's eight pre-season games.

''The best goaltender is going to play,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. ''Nick knows that and I know that.''

''Nick is with us,'' coach Denis Savard said. ''It's going to be day-by-day for both goaltenders. Habby and Dale had a great talk and we're happy to have him.''

Khabibulin and his agent were given permission by the club last week to find a team in in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. The 35-year old is entering the final year of a four-year contract that is set to pay him US$6.75 million this season. He became expendable in the off-season when the Blackhawks signed Huet to a four-year, $22.5 million contract.

While Khabibulin is still officially a member of the Blackhawks, it's also possible he still could go to Russia.

''As we move on, we have a lot of assets,'' Tallon said. ''We'll do whatever is right for the Chicago Blackhawks.''