Blackhawks let Niemi go, sign Turco

The Chicago Blackhawks will attempt to defend their Stanley Cup crown without Antti Niemi.

The Chicago Blackhawks will attempt to defend their Stanley Cup crown without Antti Niemi.

Chicago on Monday said it has decided to walk away from an arbitrator's award of $2.75 million US for Niemi, paving the way for the 26-year-old Finnish netminder to leave town.

With Niemi out of the picture, the Blackhawks signed veteran shot-stopper Marty Turco to a one-year contract. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

"Marty is the perfect veteran addition to our tremendous core that is already in place as we look to begin our defence of the Stanley Cup," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said.

"He is joining us with the intention of adding a Stanley Cup to his lengthy list of accomplishments over the last decade and we are looking forward to his immediate contributions."

Turco, 34, is an unrestricted free agent after playing in Dallas for over a decade. In 509 regular-season games for the Stars, Turco totalled 40 shutouts with a .911 save percentage and 2.31 goals-against average. He also helped lead the Stars to the Western Conference final in 2007-08.

"Joining the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks is an unbelievable opportunity for me both professionally and personally," Turco said.

"The Blackhawks are a first-class organization in a world-class city and at this point in my career I am excited to be a part of a team that will give me such a good chance to win the Stanley Cup."

Niemi gradually took over from veteran Cristobal Huet to become Chicago's No. 1 netminder last season in his first NHL campaign.

Niemi posted a 26-7-4 record in 39 games with seven shutouts, a 2.25 average and .912 save percentage. He also went on to win 16 of 22 playoff games, with two shutouts and a .910 save percentage, to help the Blackhawks win their first Stanley Cup since 1961.

Other departures

He made just under $826,875 last season. The arbitration ruling came down Saturday, which gave Chicago 48 hours to decide whether to accept the decision or turn it down and let the Finn become an unrestricted free agent.

Bowman said he tried to sign Niemi to a multi-year deal before the goalie's case went to arbitration.

"We exhausted all of our options to make this work," Bowman said. "This is the direction that made the most sense. You have to have flexibility within your roster and this was the best way to defend the Cup."

Bowman declined to say whether the team could have fit Niemi's award under the NHL's $59.4 million salary cap.

"The salary cap has been talked about too much," Bowman said.

Niemi is the latest player to leave Chicago, which has already said goodbye to Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Adam Burish, Colin Fraser and Kris Versteeg since their Cup win.

Bowman told fans at a team convention on Sunday that it's time for Corey Crawford to get a shot at showing what he can do at the NHL level.

Crawford turns 26 in December and has spent the last five seasons in the American Hockey League. The native has played eight games with the Blackhawks over the years in spot duty.

But Bowman said Monday that he expects "immediate" contributions from Turco.

"We talked it over and Marty is the guy we certainly had interest in for a long time here," Bowman said. "We're fortunate that he had some patience with us, which speaks to the kind of guy he is and that he wants to be here.

"We've been working on parallel paths for a while."

The Stars have missed the post-season for two straight years, but Turco is confident he can help the Blackhawks.

"I haven't lost my confidence, although the last few years have been tough mentally because we haven't made the playoffs," Turco said. "Part of the reason for going there (Chicago) is now you're on a team that has a chance to win every night and won a Stanley Cup last season."

With files from Associated Press