It's Official: Hawks Walk Away From Niemi, Sign Marty Turco
Chris Kuc has just confirmed what Dan Roan (DAN GODDAMN ROAN?!) stated last night on the WGN News: The Blackhawks will walk away from the arbiter's decision of a 1-year, $2.75 million dollar contract for Antti Niemi, and will sign longtime Stars goalie Marty Turco to a one year contract, whose terms are not yet officially available, but if Dan Roan is to continue to be believed, it should be somewhere around $1.75 mildo for the season.
Ok. Well, we'd speculated endlessly, and even played out the scenarios from an on-ice standpoint should Turco-to-the-Hawks became a reality, and now it's finally here. Up until this point, we here at the SCH Offices had been a little surprised with the level-headedness with which all of you were handling the situation, but after seeing some of the comments last night, it looks like reality is setting in. Make no mistake, this is a deep cut here. The Hawks had been playing hardball with Niemi all along, and in the end, the award was just too rich for a team that was going to be dry-humping the salary cap any way you slice it. Had Niklas Hjalmarsson not been tendered an offer from San Jose, this might have been avoided, but it seems the Hawks were never going to let Niemi walk in with his bag with the dollar sign on it and just take whatever he wanted. The fact of the matter is that the Hawks are indeed holding to form to the Detroit model of success, which largely takes the goalie out of the equation provided the skaters in front of him are skilled enough, and Niemi's success coming from seemingly out of nowhere as far as the general public is concerned only drove that point home.
So now what happens?
Well, in Turco, the Hawks get a guy who many believe is on the down side of his career, but his save percentage numbers have remained solid, comparable with Niemi's while facing significantly more shots per game behind a Dallas defensive corps, as Sam pointed out a couple of posts ago. Let's face it, if Stephane Robidas is your number one defenseman, your team sucks. Turco's always been a fantastic dressing room guy, and is the exact opposite of Niemi when it comes to off-ice demeanor. He's outgoing, gregarious, and articulate. So while Niemi may have been a favorite of his teammates, I have little doubt that Turco will be able to ingratiate himself quickly with his new mates, provided he performs. And based on the fact that he's taking a one-year discounted deal shows that he's willing to bet on himself to use this as a stepping stone to one last multi-year deal (despite the depreciated rate for goalies this off-season), and should be highly motivated. Turco was the emergency goalie for the Stars 98-99 run, but has yet to earn a championship being the primary netminder. This is the point where everyone points to Turco as being a playoff choke artist in the mold of Evgeni Nabokov, but Turco has posted a markedly better goals against of only 2.14 in 47 career post season games, compared to 2.29 in 80 tilts for Nabby, and both post an identical .914 save percentage. Contrast that with Antti Niemi's 22 appearances and 2.63 and .910 respectively. And getting back to a point that we've beaten rawer than my junk after a session at AskJolene.com, Turco is still one of the premiere goalies in playing the puck. While the direct results of this will only occasionally be seen, the effect of this will be many, many more offsides calls for the opposition who are trying to force the puck over the Hawks line, because they don't want to have to dump it deep and risk Turco rifling a pass the other way to spring a guy- a speeding Viktor Stalberg, perhaps.
Perhaps more importantly, however, is the ripple effect through the roster that even this seemingly meager $1 mildo in savings nets. Sparing you the full cap clusterfuck right now (though we may delve into it later), this will allow the Hawks to carry 22-23 men on the roster, which allows for greater flexibility in the event of injuries, and also allows for Kyle Beach to possibly make an appearance on the roster, either opening day or deeper into the season after some time in Rock Vegas. And to those who want to after-the fact point to the number Andrew Ladd signed for and say he could have been retained, well, yes, he could have, but that still would have resulted in such roster inflexibility that Stan Bowman would be praying nightly for absolutely no one to be injured. The question also arises of should the Hawks have signed Niemi only to trade him, but in doing so, they'd put themselves in a position of trading from weakness out of their necessity to get under the cap, and Stan and company likely surmised that whatever came back in any potential deal was not worth that risk.
Lastly, this move, coupled with comments made by Stan Bowman at the convention over the weekend, also signifies management's belief that it's finally Corey Crawford's chance to make an impression in the show. Personally, I have liked what I've seen from Crawford every time he's been called upon, particularly his posture in net and confidence at the top of the crease. Corey will finally get his shot, as he'll more than likely start somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25 games this year in spelling Turco. Once we have a bigger sample size, we'll be able to see if what Crawford has shown to this point is enough to put him in net as the started he's long been touted as in 2011-2012.
The loss of Niemi does further justify the Florida Marlins comparisons, and we as fans thank the wordless Finn for all his contributions. But like it or not, the Hawks have found a statistically comparable replacement at a discounted rate during a period when every thin dime counts.
Speaking of which, has someone loaded up Cristobal Huet's I-Pass yet?
EDIT: TSN is reporting a deal at $1.3 mildo for next season, less than half of Niemi's deal, which makes this an even better decision in my opinion. Thanks to cliffkorrol for the link.