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.

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

The Blackhawks strengthened their organizational depth Thursday, announcing the signing of forward Nathan Noel to a three-year entry-level contract that kicks in next season and runs through the 2019-20 campaign. 

Noel, a fourth-round draft pick (No. 113 overall) in 2016, tied a career high with 24 goals — including six game winners — and added 26 assists for 50 points in 52 games during his fourth regular season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was sidelined for a little more than a month in December and January due to an upper-body injury.

The 19-year-old center has raised his game in the postseason, racking up eight goals and 18 assists in 33 games from 2015-17, including six assists in 12 contests so far during the 2017 QMJHL playoffs. Across four years at Saint John, he amassed 208 points (85 goals, 123 assists) in 242 career regular-season games.

Noel is teammates with forward Matthew Highmore, who leads the Sea Dogs in scoring and was signed by the Blackhawks in March to a three-year deal as an undrafted free agent.

Noel is an undersized forward at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, but he's a fast skater with offensive upside. He'll likely start the 2017-18 season in the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs, who desperately needed scoring last year. 

Blackhawks' Nick Schmaltz added to USA's roster for 2017 IIHF World Championship

Blackhawks' Nick Schmaltz added to USA's roster for 2017 IIHF World Championship

Nick Schmaltz will be joining Blackhawks teammate Trevor van Riemsdyk on Team USA at the 2017 IIHF World Championship, the club announced Thursday.

It will be his first career appearance on the U.S. men's national team and third time representing his country in world-championship play, most recently winning a bronze medal at the 2016 World Juniors. He scored two goals and added six assists in seven games during that tournament.

Schmaltz just completed his first professional season with the Blackhawks, where he tallied six goals and 22 assists in 61 games. 

After the year ended, he spoke about the possibility of playing for USA in this tournament and what it would mean to him.

"I think it's a great tournament," Schmaltz said. "You get to play with a lot of great players. Look like a lot of great players are going to the tournament, so it's definitely a big stage. It would be a fun tournament."

The roster now includes 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders. Among the other NHLers going for the Americans: Danny DeKeyser, Noah Hanifin, Jimmy Howard, Dylan Larkin, Anders Lee, Charlie McAvoy, Connor Murphy, Brock Nelson and Jacob Trouba.

Blackhawks forwards Marcus Kruger (Sweden) and Artemi Panarin (Russia) will also compete in the tournament, which begins May 5 and runs until May 21 in Cologne, Germany and Paris, France.