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Numbers Game: Goaltending Shuffle in Chicago

Scott Cullen
8/2/2010 11:55:50 AM
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A summer of turmoil continues for the Chicago Blackhawks as they walked away from goaltender Antti Niemi's arbitration award, only to replace him with a cheaper veteran free agent.

Numbers Game examines the Marty Turco signing and what teams could have interest in Niemi.

The Blackhawks Get: G Marty Turco.

Turco, who will be 35 in 11 days, comes to the Blackhawks as a bargain alternative to Antti Niemi, the goaltender who won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks last season and was awarded $2.75-million in arbitration on Saturday.  The Blackhawks walked away from Niemi's arbitration award and secured Turco's services for a reported one-year, $1.3-million.

Turco has been a workhorse for the Dallas Stars, starting more than 50 games for seven straight seasons, with mixed results.

Last season, Turco played in 53 games, his fewest since 2001-2002, but his .913 save percentage was his best since the lockout.

Going to Chicago does present Turco with a good opportunity to be successful. 

First off, the cap-crunched Blackhawks are likely going to need to put Cristobal Huet in the minors, which could leave unproven Corey Crawford to handle the backup role and that would figure to give Turco the bulk of the starts.  Should Turco falter, Crawford does become an intriguing sleeper candidate.

Secondly, Turco was facing 31.8 shots per 60 minutes while with the Stars last season, while the Blackhawks surrendered 24.7 shots per 60 minutes in 2009-2010. 

Granted, the Blackhawks team that takes the ice next season isn't necessarily the same calibre of team that won the Stanley Cup, but there are enough key components returning to think that Turco is going to have quality support in front of him; that should mean fewer shots, fewer goals against and more wins.

There was an element of risk to Niemi going to arbitration because of the timing -- most teams have settled on their starting goaltender by now -- but the 27-year-old should be able to drum up some interest.

Niemi was 26-7-4 with a 2.25 goals against average and .912 save percentage with seven shutouts for the Blackhawks last season.  While he did backstop the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup, he posted a .910 save percentage in the postseason, which ranked eighth among goaltenders with at least six playoff starts.

So, which teams might have some interest?

Atlanta has been a clearing house for ex-Blackhawks this summer and taking on Niemi could alter the plan of having Ondrej Pavelec as the goaltender of the future but, given new GM Rick Dudley's affinity for Blackhawks, it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

If Montreal doesn't get restricted free agent Carey Price signed in short order, would they consider moving Price, to be another team's goaltender of the future, and signing Niemi?

Depending on how the Islanders feel about Rick DiPietro (and how can you be anything but completely optimistic at this point?), Niemi would provide a better long-term solution in goal than 40-year-old Dwayne Roloson.

Philadelphia and San Jose are both interesting options.  While the Flyers are ostensibly set with Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher and the Sharks have Antero Niittymaki and Thomas Greiss, neither team has the kind of proven strength in goal that would suggest Niemi isn't worth their consideration.

In any case, Niemi may have to settle for a hollow victory in arbitration as he may need to sign for less than the $2.75-million he was awarded, just in order to land one of the rare starting jobs available.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.




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