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When Steve Kouleas first started saying that the Blackhawks were going to walk away from Antti Niemi and sign Marty Turco, I’ll admit I was a little sceptical.  It’s not that I thought it was a bad idea, it was just that I couldn’t picture any NHL general manager winning a Stanley Cup, then looking at his goaltender and saying ‘I don’t need to have this guy back.’ 

 

Generally, playoff runs are money in the bank for goaltenders.  Nikolai Khabibulin got a truck load of cash from the Blackhawks after winning the Cup in 2004, while Kiprusoff’s performance threw a spotlight on his career,  The Hurricanes made Cam Ward their starter after one run in 2006, while the Oilers re-signed Dwayne Roloson after his performance.  Marc-Andre Fleury got a shiny new big-money contract after his run to the finals, while his victorious opponent Chris Osgood got more time in Detroit.  Philadelphia spent a fairly high dollar figure to retain their playoff goalie, despite the fact they had picked him up on waivers earlier in the season.  Heck, Khabibulin was able to get a second contract this past year from the hapless Oilers despite a rough time in Chicago, at least in part because of that Cup win.

 

The point here is that managers generally look at a finals appearance as a huge positive indicator for a goaltender, often using it to overrule other warning signs (the age of a player, his track record, how he was acquired, his health, etc.).

 

The funny thing is that the contract Niemi got in arbitration wasn’t really ridiculous, given the numbers that everyone looks at (26-7-4, 2.25 GAA, 0.912 SV%) and the fact that he just won the Stanley Cup.  But when one starts poking around his numbers, questions arise.  For starters, Niemi’s even-strength save percentage was low for a starter (0.914, 31st in the NHL) but his save percentage as a whole was good thanks to an exceptional penalty-killing number (0.899, 8th in the NHL).  Was that because Niemi was just that much better while killing penalties, or was he benefitting from Chicago’s penalty kill?  We can’t know for sure, but I’d bet more of the latter than the former.  Then there was Niemi’s middling AHL performance last season, where he played second fiddle to Corey Crawford.

 

I’m not saying Niemi’s a bad goaltender – far from it.  I think he’s quite a decent one, not a high-end starter but a guy who is going to have a good career.  But the goaltending market the last few years has been one that favours buyers: lots of goaltenders, not much cap space, and not very many jobs.  So for the Blackhawks, the choice was between Niemi and Marty Turco, with Turco earning about half as much as Niemi.

 

Is Niemi worth that much more than Turco?  I don’t think he is; they’re pretty comparable players with the exception that Turco’s track record is much longer (or, depending on point of view, that Niemi’s much younger).  Earlier this summer I suggested Turco was going to be a bad signing for some team, but that was based on the fact that I figured the Turco name would attract a lot more money than it did.

 

Chicago’s made a non-traditional move here, but despite the lousy optics of dumping a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender, I think it is highly likely to have been the right one.

Comments (10)

  1. Seeing as how half the NHL fans never even heard of Niemi until the playoffs, this doesnt surprise me at all. He put up average numbers in front of a great team. Almost any goalie would have been able to do the same in that situation. Id much rather have a starter whos a little more proven, been around longer than 1 season.

  2. explain what turco has proven?

    the point here is that teams are realizing that overpaid guys like luongo etc. dont necesarily get you that much further and some rookie out of finland or somewhere can pretty much do the same thing

    lets face it there are only a handful of guys out there that are tops (brodeur etc.) then it doesnt really matter a few % here and there in a different category may not make or break you.

    of course we all want a proven winner but it is like with luongo etc. have proven nothing and are getting 3-6 million a year

    where michael leighton can step in and do the same or howard etc. now it is not that much of a gamble and gm’s will rather answer that question with a top 4 d than paying some goalie who may or may not pan out.

    it was seen especially this year that guys making less than a mill can get you far and do well

    especially if they are playing for money or simply just a taste, once bulin got the cash and other guys (huet) they disappear like and nfl wideout

    cheap guys can do the job just as well

  3. I’m not sure if you’re agreeing with me or disagreeing with me, but I do agree with the idea that there isn’t much variance between the middle of the pack starters and the high-end backups. I see Turco and Niemi as in the same class, except that we know what Turco is and Niemi hasn’t been around long enough for us to know if he’s better or worse than his performance this season (although his performance in previous pro seasons suggests he probably isn’t better).

  4. Niemi must have really angered the Hawks to get let go like this but can someone explain to me why the Hawks didn’t sign him and then trade him to at least get something for him? Couldn’t they have at least received a draft pick or two for him?

  5. amen on the draft picks…and coulda traded him to a nothing team, now he will be in washington probably.

  6. i think the blackhawks are crazy and i know its a cap systems and all but u let your goaltender go for nothing . and trucio asnt provide that he can win in the playoffs good luck hawks and denffing the stantely cup!

  7. [...] Blackhawks’ decision to let Antti Niemi walk pretty much echo those of Jonathan Willis, who broke down the deal on the blog earlier.  It was a ballsy move, but it may very well have been the right move.  Anyway, I figured [...]

  8. I think Niemi was better than people think. There were two players who were absolutely crucial to the Blackhawks taking the Canucks- Dustin B and Niemi. With either of those two out of the lineup Chicago would have been easy pickings. Not to mention depth guys like Sopel. With Turco to wiff the usual one or two a game he’s shown himself capable of, Chicago’s going to drop from contention next year. They’ll join St. Louis on the “why aren’t they in the playoffs with those skaters” list.

  9. Wow, that might be the most poorly written sentence ever posted in this forum! Bravo.

  10. I really don;t know what the hawks were thinking ,but there are alot of teams who could use Neimi’s services,,iwould personally like to see him in a habs uniform ,,i also feel he may go to la or colorodo

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