“To be a part of it,” Turco said, “makes me warm and fuzzy inside when it’s 55 and raining here in Scotland.”
Why this is a good deal for Turco is obvious. After a decade with the Dallas Stars, the biggest thing Turco has left to prove is that he can win in the playoffs, and now he’s joining the Stanley Cup champions.
No one in Chicago should celebrate about parting with goaltender Antti Niemi(notes), especially after the departures of forward Dustin Byfuglien(notes) and several other Hawks who hoisted the Cup. But this is a good deal for the Blackhawks, too – at worst, a decent solution to a difficult situation.
This isn’t anti-Niemi. This isn’t pro-Turco. This is business. The Hawks have well-documented salary-cap problems, and after an arbitrator awarded Niemi a $2.75 million salary Saturday, general manager Stan Bowman made the tough call: Niemi had to go.
Bowman couldn’t cut any more to sneak Niemi under the cap. He already had cut a large chunk of the Cup-winning roster, and he still has to deal with goaltender Cristobal Huet’s(notes) $5.625 million salary.
And let’s be frank: Niemi won the Cup with the Hawks. He didn’t win it for them. As good as he was in the playoffs, as much as he created an emotional attachment with the fans, he wasn’t dominant in the final. He didn’t win the Conn Smythe. He was just good enough, which means better than the Philadelphia Flyers’ Michael Leighton(notes).
It says something that Bowman had 48 hours to trade Niemi after the arbitrator’s decision, and he wasn’t able to get even a draft pick for him. Everyone knew the Hawks were dealing from a position of weakness and would have to let him go. But no one thought Niemi was good enough – worth enough at $2.75 million – to get a jump on the market.
At this time last year, the Hawks didn’t know what they had in Niemi – whether he would even make the roster. He had played only three NHL games. Considering the Cup victory, it’s tempting to project Niemi will become a consistent performer. He might become just that. But who really knows? He still has played only 42 NHL games, barely more than half a season.
Turco has played 10 seasons. The last two weren’t up to his standards, and his goals-against average (2.72) didn’t compare to Niemi’s (2.25) in 2009-10. But Niemi had a much better team in front of him – the same team Turco will have in front of him now. And Turco’s save percentage (.913) more than matched Niemi’s (.912) last season.
The biggest blemish on Turco’s resume is his 21-26 playoff record, but it comes with a 2.27 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. He has been hot for stretches in the playoffs before, just as Niemi was last season.
At a reported salary of $1.3 million, less than half the arbitrator’s price for Niemi, Turco is a better option for this season under the circumstances.
“The players that aren’t with us anymore, you’ll always have that championship together,” Bowman said. “We’ll always walk together as Stanley Cup champions. There’s no bitterness at all about that. (Niemi) was a big part of it, clearly. But we’re on to the next thing.”
It’s funny to call Turco the next thing, when he turns 35 on Aug. 13 and Niemi turns 27 on Aug. 29. But Bowman, remember, is Scotty Bowman’s son. As the coach of the Red Wings in 1997, Scotty went with Mike Vernon in the playoffs; Vernon won the Conn Smythe, and the Wings won the Cup. Scotty went with Chris Osgood(notes) in ’98, and the Wings repeated. Last year was last year. You do what you think is best to win now.
Turco can help the Hawks. He has made his money – more than $5 million last season alone – and is at the point in his career when he says the chance to win is what makes him tick. He said he had other offers, including multi-year deals, but pined for Chicago even before the playoffs. He’s a vocal leader in the locker room, and he’s unflappable on the ice – a good combination for what remains a young team. He also fits the style.
Bowman noted that the Hawks’ strength was their mobile top-four defensemen moving up the puck to their skilled forwards, and he pointed out Turco is the best puck-handling goaltender in the game.
“We haven’t really had that skill here for many years in Chicago,” Bowman said. “We haven’t had a goaltender that’s that proficient with the puck, and I think part of being a good defensive team is you don’t spend a lot of time in your defensive zone. That’s one thing that I’m actually looking forward to seeing, is our defensemen getting the benefit of getting that puck just a couple seconds quicker than maybe they’ve had in the past. That’s a huge advantage for us.”
As he said it, Bowman sounded almost warm and fuzzy.