Blackhawks walk away from Niemi; sign Turco to 1-year deal Staff

8/2/2010 7:04:03 PM

The Chicago Blackhawks have walked away from the $2.75 million contract that was awarded to Antti Niemi in arbitration, which makes the Stanley Cup-winning goalie an unrestricted free agent.

Instead, the Blackhawks have signed veteran netminder Marty Turco to a one-year, $1.3 million contract.

The team confirmed the goalie shuffle in a conference call on Monday.

"We exhausted all of our options to make this work," said Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman. "This is the direction that made the most sense. You have to have flexibility within your roster and this was the best way to defend the Cup."

Niemi beat out Cristobal Huet for the number one job in Chicago and ended up leading the team to its first championship since 1961. The 26-year old Finnish netminder went 26-7-4 with seven shutouts in 39 regular season games, and then 16-6 in the playoffs with a 2.63 GAA and a .910 save percentage.

Eight players from the Stanley Cup winners have now been let go in the off-season by a Chicago club that is under a salary cap crunch. Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Kris Versteeg, Brent Sopel, Adam Burish, Colin Fraser, and now Niemi will all be with new teams next season.

Niemi, who earned $826,875 last year, becomes the first goalie to win a Stanley Cup and then depart for a new team since Nikolai Khabibulin left Tampa Bay for Chicago after the Lightning won the title in 2004.

Turco, who turns 35 in two weeks, was an unrestricted free agent who comes to Chicago after spending his entire 10-year career with the Dallas Stars.

Last season Turco was 22-20-11 in 53 games with a 2.72 GAA and four shutouts.

"We talked it over and Marty is the guy we certainly had interest in for a long time here," said Bowman via conference call. "We're fortunate that he had some patience with us, which speaks to the kind of guy he is and that he wants to be here.

"We've been working on parallel paths for a while," added Bowman.

Turco leaves Dallas as the franchise's career leader in wins, shutouts, and games played. The native of Sault. Ste. Marie, Ontario is second among active goalies in goals-against-average (2.31), and sixth in wins (262).

“Joining the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks is an unbelievable opportunity for me both professionally and personally,” said Turco in a press release. "The Blackhawks are a first-class organization in a world-class city and at this point in my career I am excited to be a part of a team that will give me such a good chance to win the Stanley Cup."