Hawk Talk: The Turc arrives, Antti gone

Hawk Talk: The Turc arrives, Antti gone

Monday, Aug. 2, 2010
5:01 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

The last big question hanging over the Blackhawks' roster this off-season has been answered. If that answer was Antti Niemi returning, we'd know who be in the nets for their Cup defense. Stan Bowman said after signing Marty Turco that the 35-year-old, three-time All-Star is that answer now, with Corey Crawford designated for backup duty.

What we do know about Turco is this: He's a wonderful guy, great in the locker room and the community, and he wants to help the city of Chicago and the Hawks defend the Cup, and the jewel to top what's been a solid career. It says a lot that he'd pass up more money and more security playing for a pretty decent team in Philadelphia to accept a one-year deal at a pay cut of about 4 million.

We talked with Darren Pang at Denis Savard's Celebrity Golf Outing for his Foundation Monday about Turco, and he called him among the top three puck-handling goalies in history, alongside Marty Brodeur and Ron Hextall. That'll work well with the Hawks' skating, stick-handling, active defensive corps, and maybe that's just what Turco needs at this stage after playing the last couple of seasons with a Dallas team that ranked 25th defensively in '08-'09, and 23rd last season. How much did the lack of stars on that Stars blueline have to do with Turco's career-high goals-against averages of 2.81 and 2.72? His save percentage was a Niemi-like .913 this past season, which was his best since four stellar pre-lockout years, when his highest goals-against was 2.09.

All signs point to Turco's career already having peaked, but for a guy who took such a hit in the wallet, he sure sounded rejuvenated when talking with the media from a golf vacation at St. Andrews, Scotland. Hawks fans (and most hockey fans, for that matter) are all too familiar with The Goalie Debate - their post-lockout importance now in the world of the Cap, not to mention the inexperience we saw in the Cup Finals, while the Brodeurs, Millers and Bryzgalovs went home quickly. As recently as coming out of the Olympic break, there were still arguments over whether Niemi or Huet should be the guy for the playoffs.

Niemi won that battle, then went out and helped them win a Cup, and that's something doubters of this decision have a tough time grasping in seeing him go. In the end, no matter the impression we got from his shy, reserved demeanor as he'd occasionally struggle with understanding or responding to our questions, Niemi's gone through the unique journey of being a Cup-winning goalie. And there weren't many who expected that from a guy with 42 games of NHL experience heading into the playoffs, which also raised his value.

The debate now becomes not only if TurcoCrawford will be better than Niemi, but how much more upside there is to the Finn. And how much is that worth with the team the Hawks have, considering he'd be a seemingly more expensive unrestricted free agent a year from now? Stan and Scotty Bowman and the rest of the Hawks' decision-makers believe this alternative gives them a better shot right now, providing more flexibility and balance for the rest of the roster. It'll be interesting to watch where Niemi goes, and how much he'll receive. Stan certainly did his due diligence checking out interest for Niemi in case he accepted the arbitration award while seeking to trade him for at least some draft picks. Whomever might've been interested wasn't about to do him any favors if they could get Niemi without sacrificing anything.

We're now a month into free agency, and there are still plenty of solid veterans still out there without a job, having to accept a lower salary than they may have originally envisioned. Maybe the Hawks go out and get one or two of them, especially another veteran for the blueline in front of Turco. Guys like John Madden are still out there, looking (though represented by Bill Zito, who also happens to be Niemi's agent).

The dust appears to have now settled, and there were plenty of pieces to that Cup-winning team scattered about. You look around the West, and see Vancouver made two nice moves to bolster their defense. You see a talented new goalie in St. Louis, Lombardi in Nashville, Ponikarovsky in L.A., San Jose exchanging Nabokov for Niittymaki and still seeking a replacement for Rob Blake. Calgary went back to its recent, unproductive past with its roster. No noteworthy improvements in Phoenix or Colorado, either. A healthy Detroit still seems like the biggest obstacle. There's been a lot of standing pat, or hoping for improvement from within, as the Blackhawks now will with the replacements they'll rely upon. I get the sense after all the heavy lifting Hawks management had to do the past five or six weeks, they look around and see the same. There is no question the quest to repeat will be loads more difficult. The recent history of Cup winners doesn't bode well. But if they remain healthy and hungry enough with their fresh young faces, after all this, they'll be a strong force in the West again.

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

The Blackhawks have talked the past several games now about how they need to play better, how they need to get back to their 60-minute game. But even when you tell yourself you have to improve the message doesn't always translate into immediate action. That's especially true if, despite so-so play, you're still managing victories or still eking out a point.

Sometimes, you need a jolt to realize you have to get better. Well, that thud the Blackhawks made in South Florida ought to get their attention. 

The Blackhawks' 7-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night, that "ugly, ugly game," as coach Joel Quenneville, is the latest in what's been a mediocre stretch for the team. They've been leaning on their goaltending again (please see Minnesota, Montreal, Ottawa and Dallas games). Or they've been leaning on their ability to wake up in the third period after sleepwalking through the first two. Sixty-minute games and four-line rotations, such a big part of the Blackhawks' success through February and early March, have been absent.

Call it the Blackhawks' mid-March malaise.

[VIVID SEATS: Buy Blackhawks tickets] 

It hasn't been more painful because the Blackhawks have still found ways to get points. Or at least they did until Saturday night, when two "yapping" penalties – Quenneville's (accurate) description of Ryan Hartman and Marcus Kruger's unsportsmanlike calls – started the Blackhawks' demise against the Panthers. Players told the traveling media following the game that this was a wake-up call. It ought to be.

Granted, the Blackhawks' late-season issues aren't as bad as some of their fellow Western Conference teams. The Minnesota Wild are 3-10-1 in March. The San Jose Sharks have lost six in a row. This also isn't the first time the Blackhawks have gone through this late-season mediocrity.

Entering the 2015 postseason they struggled to score goals and lost four in a row (five goals in those four games). It turned out alright. Still, best to avoid bad habits.

Perhaps the Blackhawks are in a bit of a swoon because, really, there's not much for which to play in these final few games. They don't care if they win the Presidents' Trophy (and they probably won't). They're currently in first place by seven points following the Wild's 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit on Sunday. Whether the Blackhawks finish first or second, they'll start this postseason at home. 

So is this panic-inducing? No. Is it a concern? Certainly. The Blackhawks can't start thinking they'll automatically flip the switch as soon as the postseason begins.

The Blackhawks want to get their four-line rotation going again. Artem Anisimov returning in the next week or two will certainly help that. They want to get their overall game going again. The Blackhawks have been telling themselves what needs to be done for a few games now. Maybe they needed a wake-up call. On Saturday, they got it. 

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks give up season-high seven goals

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks give up season-high seven goals

Here are some of Saturday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

Jonathan Marchessault's hat trick leads Panthers rout of Blackhawks

Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’

White Sox: Carlos Rodon feels reassured after clean MRI

Marian Hossa named Blackhawks' nominee for 2017 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Former Bulls center Joakim Noah suspended 20 games for violating NBA's anti-drug policy

Rule 5 pick Dylan Covey takes advantage of showcase as White Sox down Indians

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Illinois OLB Dawuane Smoot