Niemi blown out of Windy City

Former Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi during a game day skate at the United Center in Chicago on...

Former Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi during a game day skate at the United Center in Chicago on June 6, 2010. (ALEX UROSEVIC/QMI Agency)

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:22 PM ET

Antti Niemi carried the Stanley Cup down Michigan Avenue in the spring.

Now he's walking the unemployment line.

The dismantling of the Cup champs reached a peak Monday when the Hawks walked away from Niemi's arbitration award of $2.75 million for one year to sign veteran unrestricted free-agent goalie Marty Turco for $1.75 million

While the salary cap-strapped Hawks will save $1 million with the 34-year-old Turco, casting off their Cup-winning goalie was a shocking move.

GM Stan Bowman told reporters in a hastily called news conference the Hawks were frustrated with their inability to lock up the 26-year-old Niemi to a long-term deal. They weren't able to deal his rights, either.

"We certainly exhausted all our options before the arbitration and after the arbitration and it just didn't materialize," said Bowman. "We were never able to work it out and we've decided to go in another direction.

"I don't think you can be surprised when you're negotiating. It's part of the job. We have ideas on a contract that will work and they have ideas on what they're looking for. That's part of sports."

Bowman also addressed an off-season that has seen the Hawks trade away several key players in their Cup run, such as Dustin Byfuglein, Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel.

"The players that aren't with us anymore, we'll always have that championship together. We'll always walk together as Stanley Cup champions and there's no bitterness at all," said Bowman. "(Niemi) was a big part of it. We're onto the next thing. We're excited about our opportunity to defend the Cup."

Niemi won't be out of work long.

The San Jose Sharks are looking for a replacement for veteran Evgeni Nabokov, while the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals also need help in net. All three will likely look at Niemi, who was 16-6 in the playoffs with a 2.63 GAA and .910 save percentage.

It was easier for the Hawks, who have approximately $58 million committed in salary next year, to fit Turco's contract under the $59.4-million cap and keep most of their core together.

"The decision was made in the best interests of the franchise for the short term and the long term," said Bowman. "You have to have the flexibility within your roster. This is the best way for us to approach the team as we prepare to defend the Cup in October."

Turco, who had a 22-20 record with a 2.72 GAA last season before losing his No. 1 job in Dallas to Kari Lehtonen, spent 10 years in the Stars organization. Now he's looking forward to a new challenge.

"I'm really excited to be part of this organization and what Stan is doing," said Turco. "Having played a long time, and seeing a lot of ups and downs in the NHL with last two years knocking making the playoffs, has cemented my belief in what makes me tick: Having an opportunity to win.

"That's what the Chicago Blackhawks from top to bottom are all about. I am really excited to be part of this, not only for them to repeat (as champs) but for me to have a chance to be part of winning Cup. This is a world that everybody wants into."

Turco said his family is also excited because the Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., native hails from the same hometown as Hawks legend Tony Esposito.

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca


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