Car payments are a fact of life for everyone at some point. Cars are transportation, and we need transportation to get to our jobs to make money for other things. And since very few of us have thousands of dollars just sitting around for a car, we usually bring home a car payment along with that first automobile from the dealership. It sucks—but at least you have a new car.
After a few years, you finally pay the car off and get to enjoy the usefulness of your automobile without those interest filled payments on the 20th of every month. At first, you feel like you have all of this extra money because the payments are over; but gradually, over time, we naturally start spending the extra money on other things in our lives. Maybe our DirecTV payment goes up because we can afford Center Ice. Maybe we get a 10-game pack to our favorite team because we can afford it now. Maybe we get that gym membership that we always wanted because, “We’re finally going to get in shape.” Whatever the case may be, all of that extra money seems to get accounted for over time.
But something happens after a couple of years without payments. We look at that car and realize it isn’t as new as it used to be. We see our neighbors with a new Infinity and we start wondering why we can’t have the same kind. The 1999 Honda Civic was cool when we got it, but we’re in a different place in our lives. We work hard—we should be able to have something flashy and new as well! Who cares if our car hasn’t had any problems in 11 years and we’re done with our payments. It’s not sexy. And it’s all about being sexy.
Well, when you see that Stan Bowman chose Marty Turco over Antti Niemi, you can see that he chose the dependable car without a car payment over the ostentatious new model that would require adjustments to his budget. If fans take emotion out of the equation, this is the right move. It’s not just asking if Antti Niemi is a better goaltender than Marty Turco—which is debatable in itself. The question is—is Niemi so much better that you’d be willing to keep him, trade yet another player, AND potentially have to do the same thing next year? If you say yes, then you’re not giving Turco his due.
Marty Turco has proven his value over a decade. His career stats read like a man who should be beyond reproach at this point in his career. In over 500 games played, he is 108 games over .500. His career goals against average is 2.31 and his career save percentage is .911. People can say that he’s on the backside of his career, but last year his save percentage was actually BETTER than his overall career mark.
Considering the fact that he was behind one of the worst defenses in the league, his numbers look even more impressive. To say that Turco had NO help last year might be overstating the Dallas blueline. Aside from Stephane Robidas, not one of the Stars defensemen would play more than 13 minutes per game for the Blackhawks. Instead of depending on Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to slow down the oppositions’ best, he would count on Robidas, Nik Grossman, and the like. It’s like comparing apples to foie gras.
But with Turco, it’s a two-way street. Not only will his defense help limit the shots on goal and scoring chances, but Turco and his stick-handling will help keep those valuable defensemen out of harms way. He’s like having a 3rd defenseman to help make sure the other defensemen don’t get killed. Just ask Brent Seabrook, Kim Johansson, and Brian Campbell how it feels to get destroyed and ask if they would like someone help with outlet passes.
We could make your head go dizzy with statistics from the last decade where Turco has been between the pipes in Dallas, but no one needs to hear that. We ALL know that he’s been the man for the Stars for almost a decade. Do you want some perspective? Niemi still hasn’t even been the undisputed starter for an entire season yet.
Don’t take my word for it—take people that would know best. Stars fans:
“Those questions will persist for Marty next season and he will likely be privy to the same skepticism and high standards fans set for him here in Dallas. The difference of course is that his supporting cast will be, excuse me, vastly superior.” –Brad Gardner (Defending Big D)
And what about people in Chicago? How did they feel about their defense and goaltender?
“I personally felt that Niemi was overrated due to the defense in front of him. His even strength save percentage was below replacement level (Replacement level = the level of play of a guy you could pick up on waivers or a marginal NHLer). The cap hit was simply too high to give a guy who hasn’t even played half of a season in the NHL yet and would command another raise next offseason. There isn’t enough of a market to warrant a sign and trade and the Hawks likely needed the cap flexibility to sign Turco.” –Andrew Bernier (Blackhawks DL)
Niemi has been a good goaltender behind a great defense, not the other way around. We’re not here to say that his one season was a aberration and he’s doomed to Andrew Raycroft’s fate—but we are saying that his future success is not a foregone conclusion. His stats were good, but he was also the benefactor of dealing with 24 shots a game. Not exactly the same as facing 30 shots per game. Put those numbers up over a longer period of time when NOT playing behind a Stanley Cup winning roster and we can start comparing him to Patrick Roy.
Antti Niemi’s situation isn’t as unique as it may seem. Over the last few years, many GMs have made the mistake of overpaying a Stanley Cup winning goaltender without thinking of the long-term consequences. Excluding the Red Wings, here’s a quick look at the last 4 goaltenders who have one the Cup:
Nikolai Khabibulin: After winning the Cup (and waiting for the lockout to sort itself out), was signed to a four-year, $27 million deal, making him the highest paid goalie in the league.
Cam Ward: He won the Cup and Conn Smyth in 2006 and helped lead the Hurricanes to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009. He parlayed those playoff performances into a 6-year, $37.8 million extension.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere: Days after winning the Cup, signed a 4-year, $24 million contract with the Anaheim Ducks.
Marc-Andre Fleury: After going to the Stanley Cup Finals, he signed a 7-year, $35 million contract with the Penguins with a no-movement clause. The next year he won the Cup with the Pens.
It almost seems like the Red Wings’ management is the only group that gets it. You don’t see them going out and signing a guy like Johan Hedberg after a strong playoff run, do you? It looks like Bowman has taken another thing from his dad’s time in Detroit than just the thrill of winning Stanley Cups.
“Watching Niemi walk and bringing on the 35-year old Turco on a short-term deal could also be a clue into Bowman’s philosophy when it comes to goaltending: don’t pay a high premium.” –Sean Leahy (Puck Daddy)
This is already a team that knows plenty about regret when it comes to spending money on goaltenders. Huet is still owed $5.6 million per season for the next two seasons and will be buried in Rockford this year for the sole purpose of hiding his cap hit. Five years ago when they signed Nikolai Khabibulin to a 4-year, $27 million deal, it made the Bulin Wall the most expensive goaltender in the game. He was actually worth that contract for only about the last 4 months—just long enough to make another team foolish enough to sign him to a big contract.
At the end of the day, dropping all that cash on an unproven goaltender is just bad business. But actually, that is beside the point in this case.
Don’t get it twisted: Stan Bowman didn’t choose Marty Turco over Antti Niemi. He chose Niklas Hjalmarsson over Antti Niemi. When San Jose GM Doug Wilson threw down the hammer in the form of an offer sheet addressed to Hjalmarsson, he forced the Blackhawks to choose. Option A) Take the young defenseman at a price slightly higher than the one they intended on paying. Option B) Try to replace a member of the Top 4 defensive corps and place trust in their goaltender who has played a grand total of 64 games at the NHL level (regular season and playoffs combined).
“It hurt Niemi and the Hawks badly when San Jose signed Niklas Hjalmarsson to that four-year, $14 million offer sheet. While the Hawks matched, it cost them probably $1 million or more than they expected to pay Hjalmarsson. That was the money needed to keep Niemi.” –Tim Sassone (Between The Circles)
Here’s the kicker—even if the Blackhawks chose to keep Niemi around, this wouldn’t be over. If they wanted to keep Niemi as their goaltender, they would have had to let go of yet another one of their pieces this year. Then, after next year, they’d have to start this entire process over again. They would go to arbitration yet again, Blackhawks management would hope and pray they could get a lower salary, and if they couldn’t they’d be in the position of choosing between players again.
In this parallel universe, Chicago would be in a no-win situation. If Niemi follows up his Cup-winning performance with another stellar year, he’d get a hefty raise from the $2.75M he was just awarded. If he tanks, then they kept a goalie (and traded another player to keep him) and passed on a proven commodity that would be more likely to sign for another small contract after next season. Here’s a newsflash: this situation sucks for all of Chicago.
I understand that there are fans in Chicago who have the urge to jump off the Sears Tower after watching another piece of their Stanley Cup winning puzzle leave town. People will remember those flashy post-to-post glove saves when Niemi was saying no en route to the Blackhawks first Cup in almost 50 years. But what they don’t remember is that while most good goaltenders watch their numbers get better in the tightly played NHL playoffs, Niemi’s numbers actually were worse across the board. Is that the kind of guy that you mortgage even more of the future against?
Or do you take that dependable guy, who is much cheaper and you know what you’re going to get?