‘Hawks Let Niemi Walk; Sign Turco

The Chicago Blackhawks have announced that they will part ways with starting goaltender Antti Niemi and have signed Marty Turco as a replacement.

Niemi backstopped the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup since 1961, which included his franchise record 16 wins during the postseason.  Niemi and the Hawks needed an arbitrator to help decide their salary dispute.  The arbitrator awarded Niemi a $2.75 million salary and the Hawks chose to let him walk away.  Niemi is now an unrestricted free agent and is free to sign with any team.

The Hawks went with a cheaper plan B in Turco, who signed a deal for one year.  Turco has been with the Dallas Stars for the past nine seasons but was let go when the team decided to go with Kari Lehtonen as their starter.  Turco posted a 22-20-11 record last season with a 2.72 goals against average and a .913 save percentage.

With the salary cap problems the Hawks currently have, General Manager Stan Bowman was hoping for a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $2 million for the Finish goaltender.  The Hawks might have had a chance to retain Niemi if the San Jose Sharks didn’t sign defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to a 4 year, $14 million offer sheet which, raised Hjalmarsson’s cap hit to $3.5 million.  With the goaltender swap, the Hawks will save somewhere near $1.2 to $1.4 million towards the salary cap.

All fingers point to Cristobal Huet being sent to the AHL or KHL, thus removing his $5.6 million cap hit from the books.  According to Capgeek.com, the Hawks will have a little over $3 million to fill in five roster spots with either prospects or minimum wage free agents.

Prospect Corey Crawford will challenge Turco for the top spot between the pipes for the Hawks.  Crawford was a second round selection out of Moncton in the QMJHL back in 2003.  He has started for the Hawks’ AHL affiliates for the past five years.  Crawford has appeared in eight games for Chicago over that span and has posted a record of 1-3-1.  Crawford has posted a 135-98-13 record in the AHL for Norfolk and Rockford.

The Blackhawks will now try to defend their Stanley Cup with a new look team full of young players and a brand new combination of goaltenders.

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