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.

Some tough decisions await the Blues

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Yet again, the St. Louis Blues failed to achieve their ultimate goal.

And boy does it hurt right now.

“We’re all hurting,” coach Ken Hitchcock said last night after getting eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

“You don’t want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now.”

Indeed, GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make this offseason.

At the top of the list is whether to bring Hitchcock back. Yes, the Blues did better than 26 other teams, and yes, they finally got past the first round. Still, there are people who believe this will be it for the head coach, that a new voice could help. Overall, Hitchcock has done a great job in St. Louis. But then, so did Todd McLellan in San Jose. Sometimes, change can be good.

Then there are the unrestricted free agents. Both captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer need new contracts. The former is 32, the latter 30. The former had seven goals in the playoffs, the latter eight. How much money will they want? How much term? The second question might be the most important.

On the back end, it’s Kevin Shattenkirk that will garner the most attention. He’s signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Just 27 years old, and considering the demand for what he does, he’ll be very expensive to keep. And with the emergence of Colton Parayko, trading Shattenkirk could probably be justified, especially if the return is good. A team like the Boston Bruins might be willing to pay up.

Right now, the pain is still fresh for the Blues.

“It’s so hard to win in the league right now,” said Hitchcock. “It’s so hard to win a series. So hard to just get in the playoffs. When you get this far, you get this close, you think you got the opportunity.”

The challenge for Armstrong will be to give his team another opportunity next season. And with the draft less than a month away, all these tough decisions will need to be made very soon.

Goals of the Week get tougher as Cup Final approaches

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The Stanley Cup Final is almost upon us and picking the very best Goals of the Week is a tough task. See how we did on this edition!

Just for Men: Mike Commodore

RALEIGH, NC - JUNE 14:  Mike Commodore #22 of the Carolina Hurricanes warms up before game five of the 2006 NHL Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers on June 14, 2006 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Maybe one would argue that time hasn’t been kind to the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes (at least compared to the pedigree of other winners), but Mike Commodore’s incredible red afro and beard rank as one of hockey’s most timeless combinations.

Seriously, just take a step back from your monitor* and bask in the splendor of that carrot-topped Commodore.

Even then-President George W. Bush remarked on Commodore’s bushy hair and beard (or its tragic absence) when the Canes visited the White House:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Have a seat. It’s a pretty big deal for a guy that doesn’t know how to ice skate — (laughter) — to welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to the White House. We appreciate you coming. You know, I’m not sure what is prettier, the Stanley Cup, or Mike Commodore’s hair. (Laughter.) A little disappointed you got a haircut. (Laughter.) But, welcome.

Good stuff.

And it really is kind of disappointing any time you see Commodore relatively clean-shaven. It’s like Superman without a big “S” on his chest or Metallica with short hair or any number of not-quite-right sights.

* – If you’re doing the Rumsfeld-style “standing at your desk” thing then … kneel for a second maybe?

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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There’s nothing better than a Game 7, especially when a spot in the Stanley Cup Final is up for grabs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in a do-or-die game for the right to play the San Jose Sharks with Lord Stanley on the line. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 7 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for this one:

Penguins, Lightning prepare for ‘roller coaster’ Game 7

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal