2010 NHL free agency: Blackhawks walk away from Antti Niemi award, sign Marty Turco to one-year deal

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turcosplit.jpgIn a stunning turn of events, the Chicago Blackhawks are walking away from the $2.75 million arbitration award for goaltender Antti Niemi and will be signing Marty Turco to a one-year deal for around $1 or $1.5 million (Update: $1.3 million is the number). While a report of this happening came out last night, this makes it all official. Antti Niemi now becomes an unrestricted free agent and the Blackhawks now help solve some of their salary cap questions. Sort of.

The Blackhawks next move figures to be sending Cristobal Huet to Rockford in the AHL to keep his money off of the Hawks salary cap, meanwhile Corey Crawford figures to get the call to join Turco as his backup. For Turco, considering the amount that he’s signing for, there’s a lot of pride being sucked up here by the former Stars starter but doing so to end up on a still very strong team that is coming off of winning a Stanley Cup, that’s worth it to take a shot in the pocketbook for a year.

Turco only has to play as well as Niemi did last season as the Blackhawks will employ a more stern defensive presence in front of him. As Niemi proved during the playoffs last year, Turco won’t have to win games on his own in net, he just has to make sure he doesn’t play poor enough to lose them. Chicago’s offense can help bail him out when need be. With the fearsome defensive foursome in front of him like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marty Turco already has four better defensemen in front of him than he’s had in Dallas. While Turco certainly had his share of issues with the Stars and he’s turning 35 soon, he’s still very capable of being stellar.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 2-niemi.jpgAs for Antti Niemi, it’s pretty nice to at least have your Stanley Cup championship to console you after losing your job. It’s also nice to have a rather intriguing potential job market out there waiting for you. Teams like the Sharks and Flyers, despite having a full compliment of goaltenders still have questions circling their tentative tandems. What’s not so fun for Niemi now is joining the free agent goalie market. Then again, Niemi’s got something that Jose Theodore and Vesa Toskala don’t have: A winning pedigree in the playoffs. 

It would prove to be fascinating if San Jose came calling for Niemi as it was the Sharks who put the Blackhawks in a major bind earlier this summer by signing Niklas Hjalmarsson to a pricey offer sheet which Chicago matched to retain him. San Jose is set to run with Antero Niittymaki and Thomas Greiss in goal which, on paper, looks a bit daunting.

Ducks deny rally, end Penguins’ winning streak

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When Ondrej Kase cashed in on another breakaway opportunity for the Ducks to make it 4-1 in the second period, it looked like that goal would be icing on the cake for Anaheim. Even if it would be especially pretty frosting.

Instead, that stylish goal ended up being critical, as the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly rallied in the third period to at least send Wednesday’s game to overtime. John Gibson ended up holding down the fort, and with an empty-netter in the dying seconds, the Ducks ended up beating the Penguins 5-3.

You could call it a game of periods and close calls.

The Penguins entered the first intermission thanks to a 1-0 Evgeni Malkin goal, but the Ducks dominated the middle frame with their first four-goal period of 2017-18. The Penguins’ prolific power play helped them stay in the game (2-for-4, with both goals coming during that third-period comeback bid), but the rally fell short. Pittsburgh’s winning streak ended at four victories.

Some bounces went both ways, as Antoine Vermette nearly scored for the Ducks while Carl Hagelin suffered a near-miss. So maybe those missed opportunities cancel each other out?

From the Ducks’ perspective, this is the latest argument in favor of this team being a threat now that key pieces have returned to the lineup. This win begins what they hope is a successful five-game homestand, as Anaheim still needs to battle for its own playoff hopes.

The Penguins can’t ruminate on this loss for very long. They head to Los Angeles to face what must be a frustrated Kings team (four straight defeats, only two wins in their last eight games) on Thursday, with little reason to expect any mercy.

This last stretch of wins improved the Penguins’ outlook, but dropping games in back-to-back nights could make things tense again in a hurry. You can check out that Penguins – Kings game on NBCSN Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Willie O’Ree celebrates 60th anniversary of debut with Bruins

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BOSTON (AP) Hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree was honored in Boston on Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of the Bruins forward breaking the NHL’s color barrier.

At a news conference at the TD Garden before the Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens, Mayor Marty Walsh declared Jan. 18, 2018 to be “Willie O’Ree Day”. O’Ree made his debut in 1958 during a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum in Montreal.

Walsh called O’Ree a Boston legend who changed the city for the better and thanked him for his courage. As part of the celebration, the city dedicated a new street hockey rink in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to be known as Willie O’Ree Rink.

A native of Canada, O’Ree, 82, had four goals and 10 assists in 45 games over parts of two NHL seasons. He spent a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

For the past two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone.

More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Bruins cruise vs. Canadiens in Julien’s return to Boston

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Don’t blame Claude Julien if Wednesday made him think of better times, and not just because it was his welcome back night in Boston.

Coming into this one, it was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and the teams stuck to their scripts. The Boston Bruins remain red-hot with a 4-1 win, while the Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity .. or worse?

When you’re as disappointing as the Canadiens have been, plenty of things are going wrong. It was a weak start even with a 1-0 lead and 1-1 first period in mind, and it obviously didn’t get any better.

Nights like these have to sting for Julien, a coach known for his sophisticated systems and eye for defensive detail.

There are questions about Max Pacioretty possibly being trade bait. People wonder if Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk fit as centers, or if neither work that way. Yet, these performances make you realize that as exasperated as management must be, they may also appreciate more specific distractions.

Because, frankly, this was a team … non-effort.

Then again, the Bruins are a red-hot squad, so maybe they shine an especially harsh light on the Habs’ haplessness?

Boston generated a 32-22 shots on goal advantage in this one, with multiple contributors stepping up. Big guns came through (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were among the goal scorers, Patrice Bergeron collected two assists), while David Backes and others added to the fun.

It was the kind of effort Julien would have been very happy with, if it didn’t come at his expense.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Anaheim Ducks

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson