Bernstein: Early Returns In Goal Vindicate Bowman, Hawks

It can be dangerous to draw conclusions based on small sample sizes, particularly in the early portion of a season.

With that in mind, I still think the Blackhawks and GM Stan Bowman look pretty good for deciding as they did on their goaltender for 2010-11.

The summer madness of the Stanley Cup celebration quickly morphed into the chill of hard-cap reality months ago, with Antti Niemi awarded $2.75 million by an arbitrator. After negotiations between Bowman and agent Bill Zito cratered, the Hawks exercised their right to walk away.

35-year-old Marty Turco was signed quickly from Dallas for $1.3 million, and Niemi eventually signed for $2 million with San Jose.

Predictably, bewildered fans and media were astonished that a cup-winning goalie could be so easily dismissed, apparently unaware of the general valuation of the position in the Bowman business model.

Hockey old-schoolers love to say that goalie is “the most important position in team sports.” And while that may be argued, modern execs increasingly feel that it is not worth paying big dollars for small differences between players to fill that position. Bowman’s father, Scotty, believed that when he was winning titles in Detroit, and cap constraints can force actions pursuant to those ideas.

Their shared philosophy includes airtight defense and a puck-possession game that limits opponents’ opportunities to score. They rely on forwards contributing to the defensive effort.

Last season, Niemi inherited the job after the highly-paid Cristobal Huet crumbled. The Hawks allowed a meager 25.1 shots per game against them — leading the league in that category by nearly two full shots – and Niemi was solid enough.

Now, let’s look at where things stand today, eleven games into the season.

Marty Turco, though facing a surprising average of 34 shots each night, has a goals against average of 2.44 and is stopping shots at a .927 clip. Niemi has been benched by San Jose after posting league-worst numbers of 4.49 goals against and .854 SP in four starts. He was pulled Sunday halfway through the first period after allowing three goals in five shots, and has been replaced by fellow Finn Antero Niittymaki.

It is probable that these numbers will regress to the mean as the season grinds on (and if Niemi regains the job). But even this early, it may help some grumbling disbelievers understand that the aura of the NHL goalie’s importance – even for one with a championship ring – can be trumped by dollars and good business sense.

More from Dan Bernstein
  • Chet's Inflated Ego

    I hope Hossa’s injury doesn’t linger…don’t really know many of the details on it.
    I was watching WS and Bulls in addition to Hawks last night, and really in that order of priority/time.

  • jamessteever

    Turco can’t beat the Red Wings. And once his contract is over? Who then? Crawford. This was meant to be a retooling season anyway. We’ve seen Antii perform under incredible pressure…not Turco.

  • James S.

    Turco history points out he can’t beat the Red Wings. Once Turco contract is over? Then who? Corey Crawford. Another one-year journeyman? This was meant to be a retooling season anyway so why let Antii go? We’ve seen Antii perform under incredible pressure and WIN. Still in the long run a very poor decision IMO.

  • Beverly Brewmaster

    James- Turco’s only faced Detroit in the playoffs ONCE (2008) he had a 2.83 GAA and a .910 save percentage; not great, but not terrible either. However, seeing that the Stars averaged 1.25 goals/game in their four losses to the Wings, Detroit (who went on to win the Cup) would have won that series regardless of who was in goal. The euphoria of winning the Cup notwithstanding, Niemi was average in the playoffs. Sure, he had a couple great games, but so has Turco in the playoffs. Deciding to sign a young goalie based on half a season’s work is what led Tallon to sign Huet; Bowman made the right call in not making the same mistake.

  • AT3374

    Man it’s nice having a GM in town that has a clue

  • Chet's Inflated Ego

    Amen to that…and I’m glad he has Dad there as a sounding-board.

  • Timo24

    Dan Bernstein talking about hockey……..what have we come to here?

    • Chet's Inflated Ego

      Yes, I was very impressed that Bernsie went in this direction (I was expecting first impressions of The Bulls as today’s topic).
      I think he has a man-crush on Turco from the interview the other day.

  • bigtime sucker

    i expect more hockey talk from the bernstein. I truely believe he didn’t do it as much last year because he was learning about the game. he often talked about having lengthy discussions with Jay Zawalski in which he would inquire about stuff and Z would explain it all to him. That and he making his own observations. I believe as the the hawks stay relevant, and he learns more and more, he will talk about more and more hockey. If you try to pretend to talk about something you have no clue about, you end up looking foollish

  • Chet's Inflated Ego

    Any more info on Hossa’s injury?

    We’d better broaden the topic(s) because, so far, this blog is dead today.

    What, if anything, did anyone see in The Bulls last night that impressed you (apart from Durant’s 30)???

    • Beverly Brewmaster

      Caught the early part of the Bulls game (before the Hawks game started) and bits and pieces of the fourth quarter. By far the most exciting part was watching Rose dominate early. He definitely looks like he’s ready to take things to the next level. The most frustrating thing was watching the Bulls come out of a timeout in a tied game (or maybe they were down two?) with 11 seconds left on the shot clock and they failed to get one off. I think Tibbs is going to have a long talk with the boys about that one.

  • The Otad

    I love Turco mainly because everytime he blocks a shot it looks like a highlight save.. He is jumping, turning. diving and throwing appendages everywhere… It is fun.

    Reminds me of Edmonds and Rowand in center field diving for pop flys.

  • the hole in Adolfo Soriano's gold glove

    Where’s your journalism skills, Bernsie? You don’t use the numerical value “35” to begin a sentence! Your AP stylebook will tell you to spell it out – “thirty-five” is the correct form of the word used to begin a sentence. Get an education already!!

  • nd is a joke

    did anyone see the tweets from the student who died yesterday during football practice? ….chilling

    • Chet's Inflated Ego

      and so very sad.


    I think Hossa hurt his elbow.


    I’m terse, because I keep getting “refreshed.”

    Happy Rocktober everyone!


    After dominating the Rays & Yankees in the first 2 rounds of the MLB Playoffs, Cliff Lee had quite a thud last night for the Rangers in Game 1 of the World Series. He allowed 7 runs in 4 2/3 innings as the Giants took Game 1 with an 11-7 home win in San Francisco to take a 1-0 series lead. One guy who topped off the 6 run bottom 5th for the Giants is Juan Uribe, who smacked a three-run homer. Uribe was part of the White Sox WS title team 5 years ago and could win a second ring with the Giants. He’s also a free agent, and if the Sox brought him back as a reserve, he’d be an upgrade over Brent Lillibridge, considering the fact Uribe played a pretty good third base, shortstop and second base defensively before he left the Southside the first time. Besides, at last check, Uribe’s old #5 is now available…

  • crash corrigan

    I like everything everyone says all of the time.

  • bhawk

    after all is said, Dan clearly hates to many things, I know… this is out of left field

  • Joe Pa

    Hawks better start playing the puck possession game, good defense, stop the turnovers, and start playing tape-to-tape passing again or it’s going to be a short season. Too bad hockey’s salary cap ruined the one good thing we had in this town.

  • Milwaukee Mike

    If you wear my costume on Saturday nights. I know you love Saturday nights.

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