Blackhawks let Niemi walk, pickup Turco

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Chicago Blackhawks could not afford Stanley Cup winning netminder Antti Niemi and allowed the Finn to walk away before signing veteran Marty Turco as a replacement, the NHL team said on Monday.

With their backs up against the league's $59.4 million salary cap wall, the Blackhawks decided they could not keep Niemi after an arbitration hearing at the weekend awarded him a $2.75 million salary for next season.

Niemi had been a bargain basement find for the Blackhawks earning $826,875 last season as Chicago claimed their first Stanley Cup since 1961.

The Finnish rookie, who went 16-6 with two shutouts during the playoffs, now becomes an unrestricted free agent.

The Blackhawks instead have turned to Turco, a three-time all-star who had spent his entire NHL career in Dallas.

Terms of the contract were not announced but according to local media reports, Turco agreed to a one-year deal worth between $1 million and $1.5 million.

"Joining the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks is an unbelievable opportunity for me both professionally and personally," Turco said on the Blackhawks website (

"The Blackhawks are a first-class organization in a world-class city and at this point in my career I am excited to be a part of a team that will give me such a good chance to win the Stanley Cup."

Turco, was 22-20-11 last season but recorded at least 30 wins in six consecutive seasons from 2002 to 2009.

In 509 career games the 34-year-old Canadian sits sixth among active netminders with 262 wins, including 40 shutouts.

A member of Canada's 2006 Olympic team, Turco is the Stars' franchise leader in wins, shutouts and games.

(Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Pritha Sarkar)