The Chicago Blackhawks have decided to walk away from Antti Niemi’s arbitration awarded $2.75M contract, and have instead signed veteran free agent Marty Turco to a one-year $1.3M contract. With the Blackhawks decision not to retain him, Niemi is now a free agent goaltender on the market and should attract some immediate attention.
The last time a goaltender won a Stanley Cup with a team and departed for another the following season was in 2004 when the Tampa Bay Lightning lost netminder Nikolai Khabibulin to free agency.
It’s believed the decision not to retain Niemi was on the basis of too much financial commitment to goaltenders. Niemi won the number one position on the club against goaltender Cristobal Huet who made $5.625M last season. With two years left on Huet’s contract, attaching another $2.75M to the club in goaltenders would have had the team paying $8.375M on the back end next season. Instead, bringing in a legitimate goaltender in Marty Turco to aid the club for one year as they continue to deal with their salary cap woes was considered a more beneficial decision on behalf of the club.
With $6.925M committed to goaltenders Marty Turco and Cristobal Huet, the Blackhawks are the sixth most expensive team in the league on the back end (New York Rangers 7.75M Lundqvist, Biron – New Jersey 7.7M Brodeur, Hedberg – Toronto 7.35M Giguere, Gustavsson – Minnesota 7.2M Backstrom, Harding – New York Islanders 7.0M DiPietro, Roloson). Unfortunately for Blackhawks fans, the club decided to keep the ludicrous $5.625M they shelled out to Huet two seasons ago instead of burying it in the minors and taking the financial hit as an organization instead of as a cap hit. Now, they lose out on their Stanley Cup winning goaltender who had proven to be a solid number one after posting a 0.912 SV% in the regular season with 7 shutouts, and an additional 2 shutouts in the playoffs.
There is speculation that the Detroit Red Wings will now make a pitch for the free agent 26-year-old Finnish goaltender, though I am sure most of the league that signed netminders early on in free agency are kicking themselves for not waiting for the Blackhawks continued financial collapse.
It makes you wonder if the Marian Hossa contract was really worth it. The team was on the verge of greatness, having reached the final four last season, and signed the then 30-year-old to a 12-year deal worth an average of $5.233M per season. In his first season with the Blackhawks, Hossa posted a respectable 24 goals and 51 points in 57 games, but managed to contribute just 3 goals in the post-season. His position on the top line shifted down the depth chart by limiting the ice-time and power-play minutes of Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer, and Patrick Sharp, though the latter had often shifted to the left side to compliment the top line.
Now, due to Hossa’s contract, as well as the decision not to bury the remainder of Huet’s salary, the team had to trade away rising power-forward Dustin Byfuglien, rising sniper Kris Versteeg, gritty energy forward Andrew Ladd, and now walk away from their Stanley Cup winning goaltender Antti Niemi.
While I can say that winning the Stanley Cup was most definitely worth it, preventing the club from potentially becoming a dynasty was not.
Micheal A. Aldred