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2010 NHL free agency: Blackhawks walk away from Antti Niemi award, sign Marty Turco to one-year deal

Aug 2, 2010, 11:34 AM EDT

turcosplit.jpgIn a stunning turn of events, the Chicago Blackhawks are walking away from the $2.75 million arbitration award for goaltender Antti Niemi and will be signing Marty Turco to a one-year deal for around $1 or $1.5 million (Update: $1.3 million is the number). While a report of this happening came out last night, this makes it all official. Antti Niemi now becomes an unrestricted free agent and the Blackhawks now help solve some of their salary cap questions. Sort of.

The Blackhawks next move figures to be sending Cristobal Huet to Rockford in the AHL to keep his money off of the Hawks salary cap, meanwhile Corey Crawford figures to get the call to join Turco as his backup. For Turco, considering the amount that he’s signing for, there’s a lot of pride being sucked up here by the former Stars starter but doing so to end up on a still very strong team that is coming off of winning a Stanley Cup, that’s worth it to take a shot in the pocketbook for a year.

Turco only has to play as well as Niemi did last season as the Blackhawks will employ a more stern defensive presence in front of him. As Niemi proved during the playoffs last year, Turco won’t have to win games on his own in net, he just has to make sure he doesn’t play poor enough to lose them. Chicago’s offense can help bail him out when need be. With the fearsome defensive foursome in front of him like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marty Turco already has four better defensemen in front of him than he’s had in Dallas. While Turco certainly had his share of issues with the Stars and he’s turning 35 soon, he’s still very capable of being stellar.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 2-niemi.jpgAs for Antti Niemi, it’s pretty nice to at least have your Stanley Cup championship to console you after losing your job. It’s also nice to have a rather intriguing potential job market out there waiting for you. Teams like the Sharks and Flyers, despite having a full compliment of goaltenders still have questions circling their tentative tandems. What’s not so fun for Niemi now is joining the free agent goalie market. Then again, Niemi’s got something that Jose Theodore and Vesa Toskala don’t have: A winning pedigree in the playoffs. 

It would prove to be fascinating if San Jose came calling for Niemi as it was the Sharks who put the Blackhawks in a major bind earlier this summer by signing Niklas Hjalmarsson to a pricey offer sheet which Chicago matched to retain him. San Jose is set to run with Antero Niittymaki and Thomas Greiss in goal which, on paper, looks a bit daunting.

  1. Rob (Storming the Crease) - Aug 2, 2010 at 12:18 PM

    It boggles my mind that the Hawks have to walk away from a player that just won them a Cup. Then again, if they haven’t overpaid for Cristobal Huet, this wouldn’t have been necessary. (As a Caps fan, that makes me smile.) Yes, the Hawks have salary cap problems, but there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to give $2.75 million to a young Stanley Cup-winning goalie.

  2. College sports fan - Aug 2, 2010 at 12:45 PM

    Well, it has been proven once again that for owners and the administrative powers behind pro sports, it is all about money and business. “how do we sell our product to bring in the revenues?” In my opinion, the goalie is the most important man on the ice, but I guess the Chicago owners decided, “hey we have our cup and attendance should improve drastically after this, so lets drop our payroll and dramatically increase revenue.” To me, when pro sports became ALOT more of a business than a sport, that degraded all of them. The owners and the players are both to blame. Actually I like pro hockey the best out of all the pro sports, but I still have more respect for the guy working 50 hours a week trying to find a cure for cancer who probably makes less than $75,000yr, than I do for pro athletes playing a GAME and crying if they are offered $1.5m/yr instead of the 2.5m/yr they think they deserve. Give me a break!

  3. David - Aug 2, 2010 at 12:50 PM

    There are two ways of looking at it:
    1. Niemi just won the cup, you can find another $1.25 million for a player like that. Or…
    2. With his salary, will Niemi really be twice as good as Turco? This also allows them to sign more players, have a bit of a cushion for injuries, as well as carry more than 20-21 men on the roster.
    As a Hawks fan, it’s tough to digest, I just want to move past it….and I never want to see Niemi wearing teal or orange.

  4. David - Aug 2, 2010 at 12:54 PM

    This move is not about the bottom line for the business. Really, in the grand scheme of things, what is $1 million dollars to a large-market, high-attendance, Stanley Cup -winning team? Nothing. This is all about the salary cap. Same with almost all other moves this offseason. Nothing more than that. And that guy finding a cure for cancer (a doctor), I’m sorry to tell you but he rakes in well over $75,000.

  5. NikolaiNYR - Aug 2, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    If Turco didn’t accept such a low salary, this would have never happened. Though Turco should still have a few good run left in him, this isn’t smart future planning. Niemi is yound and solid under pressure.
    The trouble is the couldn’t dump Huet to the minors until September and had only 48 hours to decide on Niemi.

  6. Dennis from the carwash - Aug 2, 2010 at 1:37 PM

    now chicago know how the redwings have felt for the last ten years trying to keep the team together after winning the cup.

  7. Hoog - Aug 2, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    “won them the Cup”?
    Last I checked, the team in front of him was pretty good. Didn’t he face the least amount of shots in the league? That helps a bit.

  8. Hoog - Aug 2, 2010 at 1:42 PM

    There’s this thing called a salary cap, and until the NBA and NFL, the NHL has a hard cap. There’s no flexibility in it at all. Plus, its not like Niemi was the reason they won. The team in front of him is pretty good.

  9. Gary - Aug 2, 2010 at 1:51 PM

    Guess that 3 year 6 million dollar deal from the Flyers looks pretty good to Marty right now.

  10. David - Aug 2, 2010 at 2:06 PM

    I was thinking that same thing Gary. Plus the Flyers have strengthened their D this offseason, and the Hawks have gotten weaker up front. I’ll take it though…I’d rather play with six skaters than ever put Toskala between the pipes at the United Center.

  11. peepsaf - Aug 2, 2010 at 2:12 PM

    Do any of you think they could’ve pulled a sign-and-trade off?

  12. David - Aug 2, 2010 at 2:18 PM

    Just want to point out that Niemi is the ultimate loser in all of this. I don’t know what delusional world his agent was looking at, but this should have been an easy process. They knew the Hawks couldn’t go over a certain number. So it was, take a little less, have another great year looking good with a talented team, then hit it big next year in UFA. Now it’s take less than the arbitrator’s award to play with a worse team and really support the one hit wonder theory. If he lands with a good team, he still won’t make the $2.75 million (or $4 million the agent apparently requested, for that matter), or if he does make $2.75 million, I hope he has fun playing in Nassau Coliseum. Either way, the agent mishandled this whole process.

  13. dixiecuphawks - Aug 2, 2010 at 2:36 PM

    wow, the hawks sign an aging goalie for 1mill less then their young stanely cup winning rookie goalie… ?! and I thought things changed in chicago. looks like 50 more years until your next finals win. chumps

  14. college sports fan - Aug 2, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    I understand your point, but you just said it…”Salary Cap”. Is there a salary cap because players demand the big bucks(too much), or the owners demand the revenue(too much). Oh, and by the way, everyone doing medical reasearch at hospitals, universities, and pharmaceutical companies are not doctors, and no, the vast majority do not make six figures a year. Nothing wrong with giving what the market produces, but that is another point, the demand is there from people, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t overpriced. Personally, it will never be justified to me that someone deserves a $100 million dollar contract to play a sport. Look at Haynesworth, all that money for someone who cannot stay in shape. He looked like a whale on land on ESPN reporting. I live in Tennessee, and I love to watch the vols, and college football in general, but there are people who will pay $400 per ticket to watch Tennessee play Alabama for two-three hours, and probably lose, and these same people will complain if their local taxes go up by $200/yr in order to keep police and fireman from being laid off. I am not pro-tax, but it is the bass-ackwards priorities we have that I disagree with. It is the same mentality for people who will not pay their bills and apply for food stamps because they have spent their money on cigarettes, beer, and lottery tickets at the store.

  15. college sports fan - Aug 2, 2010 at 3:51 PM

    I know the Blackhawks were good all around, as I was glad to see them win. One person can’t win a game for you, but a fair to bad goalie can sure lose one. I just believe the goalie on a hockey team is, TO ME, the same as a quarterback. A good to great goalie is harder to replace than a forward or defenseman, as a good to great quarterback is harder to replace than a running back or receiver. I know all about the salary cap. Why does one even exist? To me, it is because these salaries that the players are demanding are out of control, market or no market, but I will say on their behalf, just once, that the owners are not going to lower ticket prices if the players are paid less. It should not cost a family of four upwards of two hundred dollars to go to a ballgame or hockey game via tickets, snacks…etc. As an example I used earlier in a comment, do you really believe after what ESPN is reporting that Haynesworth is now worth all of that money? As far as Lebron James, I won’t extend comment on that ridiculous signing exhibit.

  16. grimjack - Aug 2, 2010 at 9:20 PM

    Bwahahahahaha. How’s that Flyers offer looking now, Marty? Maybe Antti can drive the zamboni in Columbus or the Island. Bwahahahaha.

  17. dave - Aug 2, 2010 at 9:24 PM

    blackhawks keep making great moves, they got turco for a great deal.
    people were suprised he played as well as he did in the playoffs, lets see he can do it during the whole regular season

  18. Mark C - Aug 2, 2010 at 9:44 PM

    Wow! Where’s the loyalty? Employers demand blind loyalty from their employees, yet give no loyalty to their employees! What does this show the rest of the Blackhawk players?

  19. Tim - Aug 2, 2010 at 9:56 PM

    I can’t help think that Wilson from the Sharks engineered this whole thing by making an offer to Niklas Hjalmarsson to force Chicago into paying him more than he likely would have gotten otherwise, which puts them in a bigger hole than they were before and likey would make Niemi unaffordable, which it did. Now he’s unrestricted. The Sharks couldn’t lose. If they got Niklas Hjalmarsson that would have been a major aquisition and if they didn’t it put the crimp on the Blackhawks, which sprung Niemi free. Even if it didn’t Chicago has cap worries regardless and would force them to shed players they would like to keep. Like someone else said, its hard to keep a winning team together. I won’t be surpised if the Sharks make a play for him.

  20. Little Tommy - Aug 3, 2010 at 6:26 AM

    Both the Hawks and Niemi will probably endure a “sophmore jinx” next season so I wouldn’t be too concerned about either of them. Too bad…

  21. JCHFlyers - Aug 3, 2010 at 8:18 AM

    While I wasn’t terribly impressed with Niemi during the Stanley Cup Series, I still think the Flyers should give him a call. If he’s willing to accept a similar contract to what Leighton took, then those two could create a formidable tandem.
    Of course, then the Flyers have to perform another cap trick to make it work…

  22. Shakes head - Aug 3, 2010 at 10:53 AM

    Please explain how you can boost attendance when every home game has been a sellout the last two seasons.

  23. Arthur - Aug 3, 2010 at 12:23 PM

    Have you seen him play? I have season tickets and let me tell you without a great defense in front of him he is at best an ordinary netminder. If he played on your team the results in the first round against the Canadiens would have been the same but not in 7 games but in 5 instead.

  24. Anonymous - Aug 3, 2010 at 7:50 PM

    just goes to show how much he couldn’t stand to play for the poorest losers in hockey

  25. Goose - Aug 3, 2010 at 8:00 PM

    Hjarlmasson put them in this position by signing the SJ offer sheet , he could have taken less money and helped the Hawks keep Niemi. So thanks Nik for being a decent and upcoming defenseman, who only cares about himself and not his team. At 3.5 million for 4 years I think he’s a little over paid.

  26. HawksMichiganFan - Aug 3, 2010 at 8:54 PM

    people, people, people……..let’s look at the facts. Salary cap forced the Blackhawks to unload some players. Has happened to many teams since the lockout year. When you look at who the Blackhawks have let go, most were “role players’….and some didn’t even play in the last two series (Division Finals and Cup Finals). Niemi only made the team because he was out of “options”. Yes, he had many good games….he also had a solid team in front of him. If the Blackhawks signed him, either Bolland or Sharp would be off the team. Sharp, in my opinion, should have won the Conn Smythe award. And Bolland kept the Sharks, Canucks, and Flyers top lines off of the score sheets. The Blackhawks have a strong nucleus, and have quite a few players from Rockford that can step in and be the 2011 role players. What is really amazing, is that they were able to get any value in return for the players that they let go. The Bowman’s know something about the game of hockey.

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