Roster gains and labor pains

Roster gains and labor pains
April 28, 2012, 12:42 am
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The teams that have ruled the roost recently in the Central Division finished in third and fourth place this season, and theyve been sent home after one round.

As the Blackhawks go forward into another long summer after that glorious short one a couple of years ago, management, the personnel and scouting departments and head coach Joel Quenneville probably have a wish list on how to get better. Beyond that, they probably have a secondary - perhaps more realistic - plan.

As we speak, St. Louis and Nashville have passed up them and the Red Wings. The Blues and Predators could very well square off in the Western Conference Finals to determine who plays for the Stanley Cup. Stan Bowman - as the man whose job it will be to set this team up to aim even higher than the 101 points they earned this year - left the impression in his season-ending press conference that drastic change isnt necessarily coming. That doesnt mean there wont be changes, but the ones he makes with what might be limited roster flexibility will be crucial.

If Michael Frolik and Bryan Bickell remain, theyll have to play the first six months like they did the last 2 12 weeks for this team to get better. Likewise, if Viktor Stalbergs still here, how much more upside does he have after the statistical strides he made this year?

Like Nick Leddy, Marcus Krugers next step needs to be accompanied by some more bulk to provide an offensive bump. So, when all of us amateur lineup-makers start scribbling down lines and defensive pairings, the spots start to fill up pretty quickly if you toss in Andrew Shaw and Daniel Carcillo. After all that, where do Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Saad, Jeremy Morin or Brandon Pirri fit in, if at all? Do they stay with the organization, or are one or two packaged to provide what each of you think is missing? Is Dylan Olsen the guy who will provide size and nastiness despite his relative inexperience?

It would seem there would have to be a new face or two, maybe one up front and one on the back end. But then theres this: free agency begins July 1, but the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) doesnt expire until Sept. 15, about the same time training camps would be opening. Can teams really be that aggressive on that first day of July if they dont know what their salary cap will be -- especially if that number might actually shrink from the 64.3 million theyre allowed to spend now?

If the salary cap stays exactly the same, Capgeek.com indicates the Hawks have about 6.8 million to spend outside of their committed contracts. Detroit has roughly 20 million. The only potential free agents of their own currently earning more than seven figures is deadline pickup Kyle Quincey. The future of Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom are up in the air amidst rumors theyll pursue Ryan Suter and Zach Parise.

Those Preds need to re-sign Suter, Shea Weber and Alexander Radulov, but have 32 million to spend. And St. Louis is in shape at 28 million of cap space with potential free agents T.J. Oshie, David Perron and Chris Stewart. All are currently earning salaries between 2 and 3 million.

With Donald Fehr now running the union, he knows all too well how his leverage improves the closer a season gets - arguably coming off what might be the most successful, money-making season in NHL history. If these negotiations that havent even begun extend into September (and why wouldnt they?), we could be looking at a mad roster scramble like we saw in the NFL last August - working by whatever that new salary cap is - once a new deal is done. Who knows? If it goes down, some teams may have to actually shed salary to get to that number.

Since there are no games and matchups to worry about, Blackhawk fans may well have to wait until the matchup -- and games -- between Bettman and Fehr are over before seeing what changes come for 2012-13.