Now, Niemi is out in Chicago because he's not as cheap as he used to be and Marty Turco, who used be anything but cheap, is taking his place. In a summer when there was a market for bargain goaltenders, Turco slapped a bargain basement sticker on himself and it paid off.
"I had offers from other teams and multiyear deals, but I had a chance to be a part of this great organization,” Turco told reporters in a conference call Monday. “Waiting, especially looking at it from today, doesn't seem that difficult."
For Chicago GM Stan Bowman, who has been struggling with his team’s salary cap situation all summer, the decision didn’t seem all that difficult. Parting ways with Niemi, who was awarded $2.75 million in arbitration, and bringing in a guy like Turco for $1.3 million was much needed cap relief.
Give Turco credit. This wasn’t about money for him. He took a big pay cut from the $5.4 million he made last season for a chance to win. If things go well this season a better contract could be down the road. But this was less about a contract and more about an opportunity.
“I’ve played a long time and seen a lot of ups and downs in the NHL,” Turco said. “I’ve been around some good teams and the last two years not making the playoffs cemented my belief in how I work and what makes me tick. And that’s to have an opportunity to win. That’s what the Chicago Blackhawks from top to bottom are all about.”
And Turco will have a chance to win in Chicago, and he can help the Blackhawks win too. Sure, he’s had a couple of subpar seasons. But he’s also had some very good stretches of play as well during that time, and his last two playoff performances were strong. Change can be good and Turco, who turns 35 later this month, can still be a very effective goaltender. Chicago might just be the place to show it. His puckhandling should be fun to watch with the Blackhawks’ mobile defense.
Chicago has taken a hit this offseason because of cap issues, but the key players left are still an impressive bunch: Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp and Bolland are among the forwards and Keith, Seabrook, Campbell and Hjalmarsson are the top four on defense. That’s still a very good team.
That Turco could end up in Chicago started to look like a strong possibility about a week ago. That’s when the Niemi arbitration hearing started to approach. A look at Chicago’s cap situation, a few quick calculations and the picture was clear: unless Niemi agreed to a hometown discount on a contract or lost big time in arbitration, there was no way Chicago could fit him into the mix. When an arbitrator awarded Niemi $2.75 million, the handwriting seemed to be on the wall. The Blackhawks had already lost some good players this summer, and they couldn’t afford to lose more to keep Niemi.
Chicago’s paying the price for some cap mismanagement. But at least they got a Stanley Cup before the cap crunch came. Niemi played a part in that Cup win, but he wasn’t the driving force. He had some good moments in the postseason and at the end of the day he ended up outplaying the guy at the other end in four series.
Full marks to Niemi for his playoff performance, but the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup win didn’t revolve around Niemi, and he became another cap casualty as Chicago moved forward. Turco was there to fill the void and along with it comes a great opportunity for the former Stars’ netminder.