The 34-year-old Turco, who has been the Stars’ undisputed number one goalie for the past seven seasons, will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and Dallas General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk confirmed on Tuesday that he would not re-sign him.
That was apparent from the moment the Stars acquired netminder Kari Lehtonen
, 26, in a trade with Atlanta on Feb. 9. And for Turco, who holds virtually every franchise goaltending record, remaining here as a backup is not a very appealing scenario.
“I don’t think so,” Nieuwendyk said regarding the possibility Turco re-signs with the club. “I know we’ve danced around the issue with Marty and I think he clearly understands the situation. We’re moving forward with Kari. I’m sure Marty will test the waters of free agency, but I just felt it was time we went in a different direction.”
Turco, who has been a Star since the 2000-01 season and part of the organization since he was selected in the fifth round (124th overall) in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, probably knew his tenure here was over when he took the ice for what turned out to be his final game, a 3-2 shootout victory over Anaheim last Thursday, when he received several loud ovations from the American Airlines Center crowd.
“It’s not the end of my career, but it sure could be the last time I play here on the home team at American Airlines Center,” Turco acknowledged that night. “I did the best I could as far as focusing, but also taking it all in - it was one of the tougher games I’ve had to play. With that unknown, it’s tough to put into words, but all nine years for me kind of comes down to one night with the fans. I certainly appreciated all their applause and their time and sincerity that tonight was all about.”
He pointed out a few things that stuck out for him in that final contest, during which he recorded his 262nd career victory, 102 more than the franchise’s second-best total of 160 by Ed Belfour.
“As far as my teammates, just the littlest things - walking out with Robidas behind me again for maybe one last time, and getting the whack in the pads from Brenden when it was time to go for each period,” Turco said. “That’s the way we’ve done warm-ups ever since I’ve been here. Those things that you do take for granted, you soak it up a little bit.”
Reflecting on the deep roots he’s set down in the Metroplex, the three-time All-Star spoke fondly of the area.
“Dallas is home,” Turco said. “I haven’t had any home other than the place I was born (Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario), so it’s a pretty special place to me. All my kids were born here and until now, raised here and go to school here. This is the place that we have talked about living post-career. It’s been pretty awesome, more than I ever expected for my family and me playing pro hockey.”
“I first of all want to thank Marty for 10 years of great service here,” Nieuwendyk said of his former teammate. “He’s a friend and he’s been a terrific competitor and a fan favorite here for a number of years. And he has a lot to be proud of. These great fans that we have showed him the love the other night in our last home game and I thought that was terrific.”
But after leading the Stars to the Western Conference Finals in 2008 with an outstanding post-season, Turco has had issues with consistency and the club missed the playoffs for a second straight season. With Turco’s $5.7 million salary cap hit coming off the books this summer, Nieuwendyk chose to go forward with Lehtonen as his top man in the crease.
“We’ve had a long tradition here of having premium goaltenders going back to Eddie Belfour and then he kind of passed the torch to Marty Turco,” Nieuwendyk remarked. “Marty Turco has been a solid goaltender here for over a decade now and has done great things on and off the ice. But I just felt for the long-term success of our franchise, we needed to acquire Kari Lehtonen
While Turco likely knew that Lehtonen, who started nine of the final 14 games of the season, would be his successor, he still demonstrated his superior character by continuing to offer advice and support to his partner and remained a key leader in the dressing room.
“He’s been great,” said Lehtonen, who went 6-3-0 down the stretch. “I’ve been going to him and asking him a lot of questions and he’s always willing to help. He’s a true professional, the way he handled the situation. It wasn’t easy for him, they bring a new guy in the middle of the season like this, but he’s an amazing person and a great goalie. He’s going to be fine. He still has many good years left in this league.”
“I think Marty’s handled things well,” added Stars coach Marc Crawford. “I do think Marty’s been a very good teammate, I did think that Marty has been very upbeat. That’s what you come to expect. Marty is a guy that is outwardly a positive person, outwardly a gregarious person and he’s showed that, and that’s a real compliment to him, because this hasn’t been easy for him. What else can you do? You’ve got to make the best out of every situation and I do think that Marty’s done a real good job of trying to make the best out of a difficult situation. All you can do is go out and put your best foot forward. He’s still a very talented goaltender and he’s given us some very good starts here lately.”
Under those difficult circumstances, Turco sparkled in limited action down the stretch, going 2-1-1 in his four starts over the last four weeks of the season, with a stellar .936 save percentage.
Looking ahead to next season, one of Turco’s best skills will certainly be missed by his defensemen. After playing with one of the best puck-moving goalies in the NHL, they will need to adjust a bit to Lehtonen, who is still working on improving that component of his game.
“Yeah, it’s going to be a big change,” acknowledged sixth-year blueliner Trevor Daley
. “Marty’s an exceptional puck-mover. I don’t think there’s a goalie better than him at moving the puck in the game today, so that’s going to change next year. There are plays where Marty just makes the play back there on his own, and we moved to let Marty make the plays or there would be a set-up where he’d look to us and hit the winger, or getting out and stopping pucks and leaving them in position for when we get back there. There’s a lot of different things Marty was exceptional at, where if it does change, it’s safe to say we’re going to have to work a lot harder now for sure.”
“Obviously, he doesn’t play the puck as well as Marty, Marty’s the best in the league,” said top defenseman Stephane Robidas
. “But you can’t ask that, they’re different and whoever’s going to be in net for us next year, we have to make sure we support him.”
On a personal level, probably no one will miss Turco’s presence more than his best friend, captain Brenden Morrow
“It’s tough. My best friend, my neighbor, is probably not going to be back here,” Morrow said. “It’s tough, it sucks, but we’re professional, we know it’s a business, and he needs to do what’s best for him and his family. The Stars need to do what’s best for the organization. Those things are never easy, but change always happens.”
“We’ve been through a lot together,” Turco said of Morrow. “My whole time here has been with number 10 at my side and vice versa. And really, there isn’t one thing that either of us has gone through that the other doesn’t know intimately about. Our relationship has been started and built here in Dallas and it will last long after we’re done playing hockey.”
Turco, who was awarded the NHL Foundation Player Award in 2006-07 for his extensive charity work in the Metroplex, will also be missed in the community.
“Being a pro athlete in this community, where there’s an abundance of us here, we still felt a responsibility to help, being in the public eye, whether it’s been for kids or not,” Turco said. “I’ve been fortunate to have an awesome community relations department in the Stars organization to help me with those endeavors over the years. And those are the things, when you look back at it, that you’re equally as proud of as a playoff win or a milestone.”
Now another community will benefit from his generosity, because Turco has plenty more to achieve, both on the ice and off it, but that will have to be in his next chapter. It sure will be odd to see him with another jersey on next season. Good luck, Marty, we’ll miss you.