Lethbridge: Marty Turco rebounding as a rental

Marty Turco get's another shot in the NHL with the Boston Bruins after spending time overseas. (BridgetDS/FLickr)

Throughout his career in hockey, goaltender Marty Turco has run the gauntlet.

He started his NHL tenure with the Dallas Stars, as Ed Belfour’s back up. After Belfour signed in Toronto as a free agent, Turco took over as the Stars’ No.1 goalie. He held this post until his contract expired in 2010, and the team decided to go with Kari Lehtonen as their starting goaltender, who they traded for earlier that season.

Late that summer, Turco signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks and started the season as their starting netminder, but things didn’t quite go as planned in the Windy City.

With Turco losing the starting job to youngster Corey Crawford midway through the season, the downwards spiral began. He ended up playing just 29 games for the Blackhawks, posting a record of 11-11-3.

As the 2011 off-season progressed, Turco was left as a free agent, not signing with any team until he ended up in the Austrian Erste Bank Hockey League in December. Now, Turco is back in the NHL, signed by the Boston Bruins after both Tuuka Rask (who will be out of the lineup for 4-6 weeks) and Anton Khudobin went down with injuries.

Before looking at Turco’s return the league, it’s interesting to look at his time away from the NHL.

After the 2011 off season, it appeared as though Turco was to become another casualty of the new NHL. Since the rule changes of the lockout, with more obstruction penalties and the addition of the two line pass, hockey in the NHL has become a young man’s sport.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, with players like Nick Lidstrom and Martin St. Louis having solid seasons in recent years, but more and more often in the NHL, we see older players go through the free agency period without signing to any team in the league, before eventually moving on to Europe or Russia to play. In the past year, Brent Sopel and J.P. Dumont, in addition to Turco, sought greener pastures in leagues overseas, signing in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League and the Swiss National League respectively.

Indeed, it seems that NHL general managers are becoming less likely to sign these older, more experienced players, choosing instead to grow their teams from the base level of draft picks and prospects. This is evident in the average ages of teams in the NHL this season.

The oldest team in the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings, have an average age of 29.4, while teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Nashville Predators have chosen to fill their roster with predominantly younger players. There have been teams in the past that have done this, but it’s arguably the most widespread in league history in this day and age, leaving players like Marty Turco on the outside looking in.

Following his disappointing season with the Blackhawks and a quiet off-season that saw Turco work out with his hometown Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL), Turco did enjoy some success in Europe.

He backstopped EC Salzburg Red Bull to a win in the European Trophy Finals. He played for Team Canada at the Spengler Cup in Switzerland, a team lead by Turco’s former coach in Dallas, Marc Crawford, in which Canada lost to German team HC Wolfsburg in the tournament quarterfinals. Following the tournament, Turco signed with EC Salzburg for the rest of the season, with an NHL-out clause in his contract.

Peter Chiarelli and the Boston Bruins then came knocking, and on March 5, Turco signed with the defending Stanley Cup champions for the rest of the season. He joins a Bruins squad that has struggled as of late.

They’re 4-6 in their last 10 games, losers of three of their last five games, and Turco has seen action in two of the B’s last four games, starting one – a 6-1 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning. This result is perhaps more so indicative of the state of the team, rather than Turco as a player. He does have some solid numbers in his career, with 273 wins in 538 games, and is the Dallas Stars’ franchise leader in wins, shutouts and games played.

The real test for Turco will come in the post-season. Although he’s previously posted three shutouts in a playoff series, a record shared with five other players including former teammate Ed Belfour, his record leaves something to be desired. He is 21-26 all time in the post-season, and although his goals against average of 2.17 is impressive, his .914 save percentage leaves something to be desired.

It’s unreasonable to think that Turco will see much play in the post-season, but he should see some solid minutes going down the stretch, as Claude Julien has opted to lighten Tim Thomas’ load late in the season. If he can play well, he could very well secure himself a place in the NHL again next season.

– Stephen Lethbridge, Contributing Writer

@stephenleth

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