This is the fourth part of our preseason series looking at the Blackhawks’ roster heading into training camp in 2010.
In the first part, we focused on the centers on the roster. Next, we looked at the wings. In the third installment, we investigated the blue line. Now, let’s finish by looking between the pipes at the goalies for the 2010-11 Blackhawks.
Among all of the player movement that took place this summer, perhaps the most intriguing was the situation surrounding Antti Niemi. The 27-year-old rookie took the Blackhawks all the way to the Stanley Cup victory, but a series of decisions by his camp took negotiations from being reportedly close on a deal to Niemi walking out the door without a parting gift.
After an arbitrator awarded Niemi $2.75M for the season, the Blackhawks decision was made for them. There was no way the Hawks were going to be able to afford Niemi for that dollar amount without another veteran moving off the roster, and GM Stan Bowman was understandably uncomfortable with that idea.
Meanwhile, Cristobal Huet was still on the payroll.
In a quick turn of events, the Hawks moved from not having a goalie to having a solid veteran with something to prove… that they could afford. Marty Turco took a major pay cut to come to Chicago, where his idol, Tony Esposito, earned a place in the Hall of Fame.
Turco presents a bold move by a Blackhawks team that replaced almost every other departed player with a younger option this summer. He had a better save percentage than Niemi did last year, but his goals against was a function of a mediocre defensive group in front of him in Dallas allowing more shots at him per night.
The Blackhawks clearly win with the change in net in two specific areas.
First, financially they’re significantly better now than they would have been with Niemi. What is important about this is the depth the Hawks have been able to add since agreeing to terms with Turco. Fernando Pisani and Ryan Potulny would not be on the roster in Chicago if Niemi was still in net, and an argument can be made that the Hawks have better depth at a number of positions and present Joel Quenneville with good options on special teams because of these players.
Secondly, Turco is an elite puck handler. Niemi struggled playing the puck; frankly, he was a disaster when he wasn’t blocking or trapping. Turco is a confident skater who can attack a puck in open ice and make a crisp outlet pass, meaning he could factor into the Hawks scoring this year with a handful of assists.
Considering Turco’s abilities on the ice, and the four players the Hawks will be able to afford on the roster with the $2.25M they saved by signing Turco for only $1.5M, not only was this a no-brainer, but it was an upgrade.
Backing up Turco this year will be the “goalie of the future” in Chicago for the past four straight seasons, Corey Crawford. In Rockford last year, Crawford had a .909 save percentage, allowing 2.67 goals per night for the IceHogs. He’ll get every opportunity to earn future playing time in Chicago this year.
And… then there’s Huet.
After the press conference announcing his contract extension, Quenneville confirmed that Huet will not be at training camp when it opens this weekend. There have been reports that a Swiss team will take Huet on loan from the Blackhawks this year, but there has been no confirmation that a deal is in place.
Where Huet plays next year is a minimal concern; it won’t be in Chicago.
Blackhawks fans should be excited for the start of the title defense. The goalies on the roster could be as good, if not better, than last year.