It has been speculated for weeks, and now it's official.
The Blackhawks have decided to walk away from Antti Niemi's $2.75 million dollar salary and sign veteran goalie Marty Turco to a 1-year deal. Turco's cap hit is reportedly very low in the $1.3 million dollar range.
According to GM Stan Bowman, the Hawks exhausted their options with Antti Niemi. This is not a case of the team choosing one goalie over the other without reason. The Hawks wanted Antti Niemi back, but the money simply wasn't right. They offered Niemi and his agent Billy Zito several deals prior to the arbitration hearing and it never got done.
If you're looking to blame one person, blame Zito. He is known for playing "hardball" with teams when it comes to his clients, and it was no different in this case. In Chicago, Niemi was in an excellent position playing behind the best team in the league. Zito put that aside while focusing solely on the money and Bowman didn't bite. Now Niemi might be playing for a bottom-end team like Edmonton.
But that is no longer the Hawks' concern. What matters now is moving forward. And despite losing Niemi, the goaltending situation on this team isn't catastrophic.
In Turco, the Hawks are getting a 3-time all star seeking his first Stanley Cup. In this morning's conference call, Turco said he turned down many offers from other teams because he hoped to sign with Chicago and contend for a Cup. Those are the types of intangibles you want.
As far as skills go, Turco still has them at age 35. He makes most of the simple saves and can sometimes steal a game as well.
Turco's best attribute, hands down, is his stick-handling. While many goalies make the smart, conservative play when in control of the puck to the side of or behind the net, Turco looks for an outlet pass. He is basically a 3rd puck moving defenseman, which will be a real asset in the Blackhawks' puck possession system.
Is Turco as good as Niemi? In some areas, he's better. At age 35, he obviously doesn't have the upside Niemi has, but in the immediate future it shouldn't be much of a drop off.
Barring injuries or an amazing training camp for Hannu Toivonen, look for Turco and longtime goalie prospect Corey Crawford to be the Hawks' 1-2 punch this season. Crawford has been in the system for what feels like forever, and as Bowman put it at the fan Convention, "it's his time now."
The Turco signing also opens up additional options for the Hawks at other positions. They saved enough money to add a cheap defenseman if they'd like, or they could save the cash and stand pat.
This move is great news for prospects like Kyle Beach, who has a cap hit over $1 million and would have been at a big disadvantage to make the roster. Now that the Hawks saved over $1million against the cap by letting go of Niemi, they can afford to have Beach on the roster if he earns a spot.
Most of all, this move solidifies the idea that the Bowman system of goaltending is still alive and well. In Detroit, Scotty Bowman figured out that a talented team with strong puck possession can win titles with average goaltending (ie. Chris Osgood.) Scotty and Stan believe the same to be true here in Chicago, especially in the new NHL.
Considering the goaltending matchup of Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton in the 2010 Finals, maybe they are right.
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