Blackhawks ‘fire’ Niemi, sign Turco

After posting a 26-7-4 record and 2.25 GAA in the regular season then taking home Lord Stanley in hockey’s second season, goalie Antii Niemi has been ‘fired’ by the Chicago Blackhawks and in the same swoop replaced by the aging Marty Turco.

Niemi crime?

Demanding and receiving 3rd party confirmation that he should be paid more money than his $800,000 contract called for was enough to make Chicago look the over way. “2.75 million dollars? We thank you for your services with the team.  Mr. Turco, please come right in! We have your 1.3 million waiting for you.”  

Has a Stanley Cup Champion ever had such a dramatic makeover going into the next year as the Chicago Blackhawks are having this year, and if so, what does that say about the current salary cap? Heading into that Niemi arbitration hearing, the Blackhawks had already lost Ben Eager, Dustin Byfuglien, Brett Sopel, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, John Madden and Adam Burris to free agency or trades. Walking away from Niemi makes 8 players off last year’s winning roster.  

That still wasn’t enough number crunching for the Blackhawks, and while most GM’s of Stanley Cup winners need only point out their most recent work, some questions do need to be raised for Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman.  

You certainly have to pay for greatness, and the Blackhawks made a real commitment to two of the brightest stars in the league, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews who both will make $6.3 million this year.

Surprisingly though, neither Toews nor Kane are Chicago’s highest paid player, and that may be why the team found themselves in the situation they are in.  When you think of elite NHL defenders, the name Brian Campbell probably doesn’t make the list. Sure he’s a nice player, but eight years and $56.8 million? That averages out to $7.1 million a year, when Campbell at best deserves maybe half that.

$ 7.1 million is Zdeno Chara money, it’s more than Nicklas Lindstrom is making, Campbell deserves to be making Brad Stuart money, ($3.75 million a year) but it’s fair to say at his current salary, he might be the one player that prevents the Blackhawks from repeating this year, no matter how well he plays.

And sure, most teams have at least one deal that sticks out like a sore thumb. Tim Thomas is getting $5 million this year from the Boston Bruins not to play, and for a guy who never scored more than 22 goals in a year, Shawn Horcoff far away in Edmonton is somehow making $6.5 million this year.

In the case of Boston though, Thomas’s contract hasn’t killed them, and to be fair, neither did Campbell’s. Heck the Blackhawks won a Stanley Cup with him, you can’t do much better than that! But when you combine that deal with the other bad deal that the Blackhawks had in place with goaltender Christobal Huet making $5.75 million a year, it becomes clear that the Blackhawks needed to revise the script even after their winning year.

In that sense, signing the still very talented Marty Turco to a one year $1.3 million deal is actually a step in the right direction.   

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, D.C. Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications and is the Washington Capitals columnist for Hoffman is also an NHL contributor to Sports Climax. 

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