Cup-Winning Experience Is Actually a Good Thing

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi hoists the Stanley Cup after his team defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final hockey series in Philadelphia June 9, 2010.   REUTERS/Shaun Best (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)

Winning the Stanley Cup is like being in a fraternity. It’s a little bit of a job hook-up device. Players who had any kind of significant role in winning the Cup are usually more likely to get jobs or traded for.

The idea is that if a team is making a Cup run, GMs want some Cup-winning experience in the room. They want non-Cup-winning players to hear what it takes to win the Cup and how great it feels once the Cup is won.

By walking away from goalie Antti Niemi, and his $2.75 million arbitration ruling, the Blackhawks are walking away from Cup-winning experience.

Again.

On the one hand, Blackhawks’ GM Stan Bowman felt he needed more cap space than Niemi’s contract would have provided. Also, Niemi has hardly been a lights-out goalie, even as he helped Chicago win the Cup.

But on the other hand, by signing goalie Marty Turco to replace Niemi (for $1.75 to $1.25 million less), he’s going with a goalie who’s consistently wilted under the pressure of big games.

Turco will probably be fine during the regular season. But the Blackhawks aren’t looking to win the regular season. They want more Cups.

And I’m not sure Turco is a guy who can bring in more Cups.

Dallas parted ways with Turco without looking back after a decade with the goalie. That’s a pretty huge indicator that the team saw some limitations in his abilities.

The Turco move only makes sense if Bowman expects goalie Cristobal Huet to finally start living up to his contract. While he wasn’t a key part of the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup-winning run, he was around for it. Maybe Bowman thinks bearing witness to success is just about as good as being successful.

Obviously, Bowman would love to move that contract, but I can’t see anyone being remotely interested. Unless the Islanders actually become that desperate to reach the cap floor.

Or maybe the Blackhawks are finally ready to put the highly-regarded goalie Corey Crawford into the NHL mix and expect it to be a seamless transition.

Bowman made a tough move in walking away from Niemi. For Bowman, I think he felt Niemi’s talent didn’t justify that much money.

My concern is that Niemi’s intangibles — his calm and composure and experience — were actually worth a lot more and will be tough to replace. In fact, I think a great comparable might be Chris Osgood, who won three Stanley Cups with a level of talent and ability similar to Niemi’s.

Neither goalie has game-changing talent, but both seem able to stay calm in the face of increasingly higher stakes.

It’s hard to say to what extent Niemi has this kind of calm given just one post-season of data to work with.

But while at least the possibility exists that Niemi is a big game goalie, it seems fair to say we know Turco isn’t that kind of goalie.

So the Blackhawks have saved some cap space. Hopefully they haven’t compromised too much of their future.