Chicago Blackhawks Say "Thanks, No Thanks" To Antti Niemi

Ragnar HaagenContributor IAugust 3, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 09:  Antti Niemi #31 of the Chicago Blackhawks hoists the Stanley Cup after teammate Patrick Kane #88 scored the game-winning goal in overtime to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 and win the Stanley Cup in Game Six of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Wachovia Center on June 9, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks have continued to gut the roster that brought the team their first Stanley cup in almost 50 years when the Hawks refused to pick up the $2.75 million contract awarded to Antti Niemi in arbitration.

Instead, the team has signed veteran goaltender Marty Turco to a one-year, $1.3 million contract.

That means Niemi, who started last season as a backup to Christobal Huet, and ended up leading his team to their first Stanley Cup since 1961 will become an unrestricted free agent.

The 26-year-old Finnish goalie took over the starting job midseason and compiled a 26-7-4 record including seven shutouts in 39 regular season games, and then went 16-6 in the playoffs with a 2.63 GAA and a .910 save percentage.

Evidently this was not enough for the Blackhawks and they chose to let him go in favour of keeping Huet and signing Turco.

In Marty Turco, the Hawks get an over-the-hill goaltender who turns 35 in a few weeks.

His win totals have steadily declined since the ‘05-06 season and his luck hasn’t been much better as his overtime losses have increased every year since the rule change.

That is the worst kind of goalie you want between the pipes—one who is over-the-hill and down on his luck.

This has just been the latest move for a team desperately trying to get under the salary cap for next season. Since winning the cup, Chicago has said goodbye to Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Kris Versteeg, and Niemi, all for cap reasons.

None of those players could be looked upon as superstars, but they each played their role, and played it well.

A team is only as good as its whole, and hockey isn’t like the NBA, where one player can change the outcome of a season.

As of this writing, the team has just over $3 million in cap space. But the one cap figure that stands out like a sore thumb is at goaltender, and it’s not the newly signed Marty Turco, who I assume is slated to start the regular season as No. 1.

No, it’s the goaltender that Antti Niemi beat out last season, Cristobal Huet, who’s on the books for $11.25 million over the next two years. That's top-10 goalie money for a guy who couldn’t even hold down his job last season. And the Hawks were quibbling over $1.4 mill (which is the difference between what Niemi was awarded and Turco was signed for).

At over $5.5 million each of the next two seasons, I’m sure not many teams were biting on Huet.

But I hope Chicago at least tried to trade Huet's contract for a bag of pucks or some draft picks rather than just give up the guy who backstopped them to the cup.

Heading into last season, pundits around the league praised the Hawks for their young talent and how management had built through the draft, concentrating on assembling players that could mesh with one another.

And for one season, that team meshed better that any other.

But because of the salary cap, it’s impossible to keep teams together for long.

So should the Hawks be praised for being able to keep their nucleus together, or should they be criticized for the treatment given to their less heralded players that made the cup run possible? After all one spare part is just as good as another, right?