Chicago Blackhawks Say No To Antti Niemi

Michael Gibbons@DachicagofanCorrespondent IIAugust 4, 2010

CHICAGO - JUNE 11: Antti Niemi #31 hoists the cup  during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory parade and rally on June 11, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Remember at the end of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy is saying goodbye to everyone and turns to the Scarecrow and says I think I'll miss you most of all?

Well, I think I'll miss Antti Niemi most of all.

The Chicago Blackhawks have said goodbye to a lot of players that helped win Lord Stanley's Cup nearly two months ago but perhaps none were as key to so many victories as goalie Antti Niemi.

After coming up during the 2008-2009 season for a brief three-game stint, Niemi was able to beat out Cory Crawford for the backup job heading into the 2009-2010 season.

Niemi performed very well backing up Huet and as the season went on, he earned more and more starts and eventually the starting job coming down the stretch. Niemi appeared in 39 games while starting 35 of them and going 26-7 with seven shutouts, 91.2 save percentage, and 2.25 goals allowed per game.

Then the playoffs started and Niemi stepped up. He went 16-6 with two shutouts, a 9.10 save percentage, and 2.63 goals allowed average. His real standout performance was in Game One of the conference finals against the San Jose Sharks where he stopped 44 of 45 shots helping the Hawks win 2-1. Also, don't forget all those amazing saves and helping the team stay alive in the first round against the Nashville Predators.

The two sides were unable to come to terms on a contract extension before the start of free agency, which lead to Niemi declaring for arbitration.

On Thursday, July 29, the two sides met with the arbitrator and purposed their contract totals. Rumor is that the Blackhawks offered around $1.5 million while Niemi's side was looking closer to $3.5 to $4 million, similar to the contract that Jarolsav Halak received from the St. Louis Blues.

On Saturday, July 31, the arbitrator handed down his ruling of $2.75 million and then this past Monday, August 2, the team decided to pass and allowed Niemi to become an unrestricted free agent.

The Hawks then acted quickly and signed veteran goaltender Marty Turco to a one-year, $1.3 million deal. Turco, 34, a longtime member of the Dallas Stars, might be a perfect fit with his new team. The three-time all-star had four shutouts last season while compiling a 22-20 record with a 91.3 save percentage and 2.72 goals allowed. Now imagine what he can do with the Hawks defensemen playing in front of him.

Going into camp, Turco will be the starter, much like Huet was last season, but I would suspect that Coach Q will give youngster Corey Crawford every chance to prove he deserves more playing time and maybe even the starting gig.

So which former Hawk will you miss the most?

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