CHICAGO – For Marty Turco, the bottom line is to play for a contender.
By agreeing to a one-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday, the veteran goaltender made that clear.
Turco, who will replace Stanley Cup hero Antti Niemi as the Blackhawks’ top goalie, could have earned more money and gotten a longer contract elsewhere, according to his agent, Kurt Overhardt. The deal worth US$1.3 million.
“We spoke to four different teams and turned down different opportunities and amounts,” Overhardt said. “He turned down teams with higher considerations and longer terms.
“Marty’s priority was joining as team that could win a Stanley Cup, and he chose Chicago.”
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said the team expects “immediate” contributions from the 34-year-old Turco, who has played his entire NHL career with Dallas. The three-time all-star never advanced past the conference final in six playoff appearances with the Stars.
“Part of the reason for going (to Chicago) is now you’re on a team that has a chance to win every night and won a Stanley Cup last season,” Turco said.
The 26-year-old Niemi helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup last season after earning $826,875 as a rookie. He was awarded a $2.75 million salary for 2010-11 by an arbitrator last week, putting the Blackhawks in a tough spot.
Bowman declined to say whether the team could have squeezed Niemi’s award under the salary cap, set at $59.4 million next season.
“The salary cap has been talked about too much,” Bowman said.
However, Bowman said he made several attempts to sign Niemi to a multi-year contract 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.”
Niemi, a Finn who signed with the Blackhawks in May 2008, becomes an unrestricted free agent. He played all but one period of the Blackhawks post-season run, going 16-6 with a 2.63 goals-against average, .910 save percentage and two shutouts.
Niemi is the eighth player to leave the Blackhawks since the team won its first Stanley Cup in 49 years, joining Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Adam Burish, Colin Fraser and Kris Versteeg. John Madden, a 37-year-old unrestricted free agent, has yet to sign with a team.
Niemi’s agent, Bill Zito, said his client was disappointed by the Blackhawks’ decision.
“Just imagine how anyone would feel in his situation,” Zito said. “His situation is exacerbated a little bit more than those guys the Blackhawks traded away because of going through all the drama of the arbitration.
“You’re 26 years old, just had your breakout year and win the Cup,” Zito added. “It’s all cap management. I have to respect the hockey decision they made and live with it.”
Zito said he was talking to several NHL teams and expects Niemi to land with a new club before the start of the season.
Bowman said he had been eyeing Turco for some time and trying to co-ordinate the timing of the signing so another team wouldn’t grab him.
“We talked it over and Marty is the guy we certainly had interest in for a long time here,” Bowman said via conference call. “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.”
In his NHL career, Turco is 262-154-63 in 509 regular-season games with a 2.31 goals-against average and 40 shutouts. Last season, he went 22-20-11 with a 2.72 GAA, .913 save percentage and four shutouts.
The five-foot-11 native of Sault Ste-Marie, Ont., who turns 35 this month, is 21-26 with a 2.17 goals-against average in 47 playoffs games.
The Stars, however, have missed the post-season the last two seasons.
“I haven’t lost my confidence, although the last few years have been tough mentally because we haven’t made the playoffs,” Turco said. He said he has “never been better physically” and that it was a “dream come true” to play for an Original Six team that once had Tony Esposito, another Sault Ste-Marie native, in net.
“I had offers from other teams and multi-year deals, but I had a chance to be a part of this great organization,” Turco said. “Waiting, especially looking at it from today, doesn’t seem that difficult.”
With the addition of Turco, Bowman said his team’s roster is nearly set for 2010-11.
“We need to add a defenceman, but we’re not going to be making wholesale changes at this point,” he said. “We’re satisfied with what we have.”