Hawk Talk: Moving forward this offseason

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Hawk Talk: Moving forward this offseason

Tuesday, June 29, 2010
5:15 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

This is the latest update of a series of articles that evaluate the moves GM Stan Bowman have made and anticipate the changes the team will still need to make with regard to the 2010-11 salary cap.

The NHL salary cap officially making a maximum jump to 59.4 million was the absolute best-case scenario for the cap-strapped Blackhawks. And with the price of keeping his entire Stanley Cup club intact topping 70 million, Bowman began stripping down the team in earnest even before last Fridays NHL draft.

The problem is, neither of his deals managed to drastically improve the teams cap scenario. The wunderkind GM cobbled together forwards Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Eager and defenseman Brent Sopel and sent them to the Atlanta Thrashers for veteran center Marty Reasoner and a bag of potential. While the deal accomplished one objective, trimming some 5 million from the salary rolls, the eagerness to shuffle Byfuglien off is confounding. Heres a forward on the rise, at a relatively nice price but no long-term commitment, coming off a postseason where he undoubtedly was on the short list for the Conn Smythe, and hes wedged into a salary dump? Hmm. All along it seemed that an extraneous player like Byfuglien or Kris Versteeg would have been ideal to dangle as a sweetener to help another club swallow Cristobal Huet.

In fact, think about it: Arguably two of the top six Blackhawks postseason performers, Byfuglien and Sopel, were dumped on Atlanta. What a strange sports world.

Bowmans second move was also a bit curious. Colin Fraser, who centered the fourth line that resuscitated the Blackhawks with a terrific scoring streak as the season wound short, was exiled to the Edmonton Oilers for a sixth-round draft pick. Sensible, if Fras was making even as much as a million dollars per year. But he wasnt, and surely wouldnt have commanded a thick salary for 2010-11. One of the easiest pieces to keep, Bowman shipped off. Another odd move.

Yet, the sun is shining on Chicago and Bowman, what with a cap that has jumped up from prior dire estimates. Heres an educated guess at how the summer shuffle will wrangle out, with an assist from the cap hit chart at CapGeek.com:

The Core (4)

There are four incomparable Blackhawks cogs. Under no circumstances will they leave Chicago anytime soon.

A recent development surrounding just how big a bite of the cap these core players take are the performance bonuses earned by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane last season, rumored to be as much as 5 million, all of which will count vs. the 2010-11 cap.

RW Marian Hossa: 5.3 million
C Jonathan Toews: 6.3 million
LW Patrick Kane: 6.3 million
D Duncan Keith: 5.5 million
Total: 23.4 million

The Essentials (6)

With well more than a third of the cap tabbed for the core four, the next area of concern is the essential players. These six players arent necessarily better than the remainder of the teamthey are simply the most logical pieces for the Blackhawks to keep, no-brainers nearly on the level of the Core Four.

With rookie Antti Niemi stealing the starters role from Huet, the Blackhawks goalie tandem should look different come fall, after Bowman packages Huets hefty contract along with a promising player or two. Plausibly, the Blackhawks can aim to extend Niemi at a modest rate and either rely on a young goaltender like Corey Crawford or Hannu Toivonen for 20 games or go shopping for one of many veteran netminders on the market at a discount price tag as well.

Niemi made 826,875 in 2009-10 and is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent that the Blackhawks have extended a qualifying offer, so the Blackhawks shouldnt lose himit will simply be a matter of how much at least one more season of the wunderkind will cost. This long-range (summer) estimate presumes Niemi not only establishes himself as a stopper and has a good playoff run. Niemis price tag will jump, but lets cross fingers and figure on a four-year deal at 10 million, which would triple the rooks 2009-10 salary to 2.5 million per season.

Patrick Sharp demonstrated terrific flexibility in sliding over to center during Dave Bollands absence, and in the process has made himself much more indispensible with solid playmaking and disciplined two-way play. Sharps cap hit is steep at 3.9 million, but he proved worth it with his best all-around Blackhawks season yet. Bolland took some time to round himself back into playing shape after missing three months with back surgery, but proved a pesky defensive stopper (and underrated shorthanded goal scorer) in the postseason. Coach Joel Quenneville adores Bollys hockey IQ and would throw himself in front of any Bolland trade.

With the Blackhawks locking up Keith long-term, it only makes sense to consider his blue line mate, Brent Seabrook, an untouchable. His 3.5 million contract seems just about right. Hell be due for an extension in 2011-12.

Two other essential players make the list, primarily due to value per dollar. Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and right wing Troy Brouwer are outperforming their contracts. Hjalmarsson is showing signs of being a star defender and made a mere 643,333 in 2009-10; and as a restricted free agent whom the Blackhawks have extended a qualifying offer, it would make sense to lock Hjalmarsson uplets say tripling his salary to 1.7 million per.

Brouwer is signed for next season at a shade more than 1 million, which also makes him one of the biggest bargains on the team. Hes proved himself capable of first-line minutes and rugged two-way play that this team of offensive superstars sorely needs. As veterans are purged this summer, the Wild Mans role should only increase come fall.

G Antti Niemi (2.5 million)
D Brent Seabrook (3.5 million)
D Niklas Hjalmarsson (1.7 million)
C Dave Bolland (3.4 million)
RW Patrick Sharp (3.9 million)
RW Troy Brouwer (1 million)
Total: 16 million

The Keeper (1)

Brian Campbell is in a unique positionhes a core Blackhawks defenseman, but unfortunately is signed for about twice the money hes worth. Theres little chance of Bowman being able to move Soupy, so hes going nowhere. While its very likely that Huet will finish the last year of his hefty contract overseas or in the minors, the Blackhawks can afford to do that both off (theyre making money hand over foot) and on (Huets effectiveness has vanished) the ice. Campbell, as was proved by prematurely returning from injury and helping deliver the quarterfinals win over the Nashville Predators, is still a crucial component for the Hawks.

D Brian Campbell (7.1 million)
Total: 7.1 million

The Bubble Players (10)

With 46.5 million on the books for 2010-11 and 10 players still needed to fill out the roster, this is where the squeeze begins. At an estimated cap of 59.4 million, that means those 10 players can be paid a total of 12.9 million.

If you look at the five players youd consider filling out the 2010-11 team with who are currently on the roster and under contract:

G Cristobal Huet (5.6 million)
C Marty Reasoner (1.2 million)
RW Kris Versteeg (3.1 million)
RW Tomas Kopecky (1.2 million)
LW Andrew Ladd (1.8 million qualifying offer)
Total: 12.9 million

and add the five free agent players youd round out the roster with today with rough estimates of the costs of new contracts:

C John Madden (2 million)
RW Adam Burish (800,000)
D Nick Boynton (1.5 million)
D Kim Johnsson (2 million)
D Jordan Hendry (700,000)
Total: 7 million

add 19.9 to the overall estimate for keeping the team intact, pushing the total team salary to a hefty 66.4 million.

With 7 million that will need to be trimmed away, the Blackhawks obviously cannot afford to bring all 10 bubble players back.

Snap decisions can be made regarding some veterans: Johnsson, even at a return price of less than half of his 2009-10 salary, is unlikely to return. Huet has played his way out of Chicago and will not return at any cost; if a deal cant be struck, the veteran will choose between playing in Europe or in Rockford, leaving the Hawks on the hook for his salary but taking it off of the salary cap. All indications are Madden will find a good offer outside of Chicago and that hell take it.

Trade out Huet for Crawford, and you drop 4.8 million. Sub Bryan Bickell for Madden, and thats another 1.4 million shed. And leave Johnsson unsigned and replacing him with a sub-million seventh d-man, or bring up Jake Dowell as the spare forward, and youve trimmed another 1.5 million.

Guess what? If those three players are replaced by bottom-dollar players, the salary cap crunch is essentially solved; Bowman wasnt lying when he said he no longer would be forced to make moves to get under the cap. Its also a clear indication that indeed Huet is finished in Chicago and that the Blackhawks are willing to pay him not to play for them.

Total cost for the 21 roster players? Its a mere 58.8 millionyep, Bowman has a half-mil to spare for in-season callups or a stretch-run trade.

Except
Theres this sticky matter of having young superstars leading your team to a Stanley Cup while still on entry-level contracts. An entry-level contract is often packed with performance bonuses (because the compensation is, theoretically, limited) in a way a veterans contract is not. To that end, only Toews and Kane among all Blackhawks had contracts last season that featured performance bonusesand word is, Batman and Robin hit em all, to the tune of as much as 5 million. Toews pocketed an extra 1.3 million alone for winning the Conn Smythe.

While in a capless world that would only mean the two youngsters would just get to party it up all the more this summer, under the NHLs salary cap, the bonuses are dealt with in draconian fashion, counting as season salary in 2010-11. So because of their success, the Blackhawks have an additional sum to trimlets worrywart it to the full 5 million. So Stan, my man, your job is not donetheres still 4.4 million still to erase from the rolls.

There are three likely routes Bowman must take to ease back under the cap. The one most unavoidable is to deal Versteeg or Sharp for prospects or a sub-million player. Versteeg is the safer bet to go; for all his amazing potential, hes emotionally exasperating to the Blackhawks coaching staff, sort of a 180 turn from the steady Bolland. Clearly, Chicago doesnt want to lose Versteeg, but it does have to pay the piper. Best-case scenario here is that Steeger can be wedged into a blockbuster, a player that can sweeten the deal enough for the Blackhawks to wedge in a bloated Huet or Campbell contractit seems that the man who stole Versteeg from the Boston Bruins and brought him to Chicago, new Florida GM Dale Tallon, could be enticed into such a deal, as desperately as his team aches for scorers.

Bottom line, replacing Versteeg with a million-or-less deal sheds 2 million. Two trades that will save the necessary additional monies would be to deal Reasoner and replace the vacated slot with a minimum-salary player, and refuse to re-sign Boynton (little sacrifice there) in favor of another minimum-level guy. Thats roughly 2 million more saved, and a roster that is hardly a step back from 2009-10:

Right Wing: Hossa, Sharp, Brouwer, Kopecky, Burish (12.2 million)

Center: Toews, Bolland, Dowell, Mark Cullen (10.8 million)

Left Wing: Kane, Ladd, Bickell, Kyle Beach (9.9 million)

Defensemen: Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Campbell, Hendry, Shawn Lalonde (19.3 million)

Goalie: Niemi, Crawford (3.3 million)

(Keep in mind players like Cullen and Lalonde are added more for their inexpensive pricetag and not necessarily meritsurely there will be cheap, roster-worthy talent whether or not Cullen and Lalonde earn the final spots.)

Add in the 5 million in 2009-10 bonuses and the Blackhawks are at 60.5 million. Yeah, thats still 1.1 million over, but that presumes the bonuses are a full 5 million (which is not certain) and that the Blackhawks will give modest raises to guys like Bickell, Hendry, Burish and Ladd. If the Blackhawks, claiming a thin pocketbook, reupped those four players at 2009-10 rates, the Blackhawks fall less than half a million over the cap.

Its possible, Stan. Youre almost there.

CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider Brett Ballantini covered the 2010 Stanley Cup winners all season. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information and key summer Hawks updates.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Boston Bruins tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Scott Darling gets the nod.

Joel Quenneville is giving a struggling Corey Crawford a breather tonight, electing to go with Darling in the final game of the father's road trip. Darling is 11-4-2 with a 2.34 goals against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 20 games this season. His numbers aren't as great on the road, where he is 4-2-1 with a 2.83 GAA and .901 save percentage compared to a 7-2-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and .928 save percentage at home, but he fared well against Boston last season. The Lemont native stopped 42 of 46 shots, good for a .913 save percentage, in a 6-4 win at the United Center last April.

2. The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line.

The Blackhawks' trio of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin had a rare zero points in Tuesday's 6-4 win over Colorado, but don't expect to see that again. In fact, it could be the opposite. In their last meeting against the Bruins, a 6-4 win on April 3 during the 2015-16 season, they combined for 11 points (five goals, six assists), highlighted by a Kane hat trick that put him at 100 points on the season for the first time in his career. 

3. How the rookies build off a monsterous game.

In arguably the most well-rounded victory of the season Tuesday in Colorado, the Blackhawks had three rookies that had multi-point efforts. Vinnie Hinostroza had two goals, including the game winner. Tanner Kero had two goals and one assist, while Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. It was the top-six that was doing the heavy lifting earlier in the season, now the bottom-six is slowly starting to contribute on a consistent basis. The Blackhawks will be in great shape if they can confidently roll four lines that have the potential to find the back of the net on any given shift.

4. Patrice Bergeron vs. Jonathan Toews.

Two of the best two-way centers in the league will go head-to-head, and it's always a fun matchup to watch. Bergeron leads the league with 597 faceoff wins, and is ranked fifth with a 58.4 percentage at the dot while Toews ranks eighth in wins with 473 — despite missing nine games with a back injury — and sits at sixth with a 57.5 percentage. Both of the perennial Selke Trophy candidates have struggled offensively this season, with Bergeron recording only 21 points in 45 games and Toews with 22 points in 38 contests. Bergeron has been heating up as of late, though, scoring three goals and six assists in his last eight games. Bergeron also leads the league in possession numbers, with the Bruins controlling 61.9 percent of the even-strength shot attempts when he's on the ice.

5. Brad Marchand.

In September, Marchand inked an eight-year, $49 million deal and it's already paying dividends for the Bruins. He has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in his last eight games, and 45 points total, which is by far the most on his team and tied for sixth in the NHL. He's 16 points away from tying his career high of 61 set last season, with a little less than half the year to go. He's also had great success against the Blackhawks. In his last six games against Chicago, dating back to the 2013-14 campaign, he has registered at least a point in all of them, scoring four goals and adding five assists. To make life more difficult, he's a player that enjoys getting under people's skin, so expect him to be a big factor tonight.

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Blackhawks mailbag: Trade rumors abound

Blackhawks mailbag: Trade rumors abound

We interrupt this mid-January Blackhawks mailbag for an important announcement:

We are reaching that time of the season when trade rumors abound. There will be names galore, some that could make sense, some that will make absolutely no sense. Unfortunately, the latter will get as much attention in some circles as the former. That's the way this time of year goes.

One more note: On any name that's bandied about right now, check where his team is in the standings. If it's close to reaching a postseason spot, tap the brakes until things shake out a little more. I know, kids, I know: patience is not a virtue for many people, let alone Twitter. It'll all be OK.

With all that said onto the mailbag which, as you can imagine, asks a few trade-centric questions.

I agree on not trading the first-round draft pick. The Blackhawks have done that in the past but, with the draft in Chicago this summer, they’re going to want to hold onto that as well as a good amount of draft picks. This is their showcase.

I agreed with Jamal Mayers on CSN's latest podcast that the Blackhawks will likely look for someone with no term left on his contract past this season. I know there's been mention of guys with several years and big cap hits remaining on their deals, but how do the Blackhawks do that, especially with Artemi Panarin's new contract also kicking in next season? They'd have to get rid of a big contract and most of their big contracts also have no movement clauses.

Piggybacking off the last question, I do believe the Blackhawks have to do something to bolster their forward depth. They need someone who has some experience but won't cost them a lot (easy for me to say). Who that guy is right now, I'm not sure (don't worry, I'll be doing one of these in February, too). I wouldn't go for a Jarome Iginla or Shane Doan, as much as I like both of those guys. The Blackhawks don't have the forward depth to take a chance on a player who, while he may have been great several years ago, may not have much left now.

I've got three thoughts on this one.

First, the Dallas Stars fall into the above-mentioned category regarding potential playoffs. Despite a slew of injuries and inconsistent play, the Stars are 11th in the Western Conference but are just two points out of a playoff spot.

Second, Sharp has struggled with his health this season, as concussions have led to two lengthy absences.

Third, and this is my biggest question: Can you go home again? The Blackhawks have brought back Cup winners a few times, from Kris Versteeg to Andrew Ladd to Brian Campbell. Versteeg’s return here was up and down, Campbell's has been OK (there have been a few healthy scratches in there) and Ladd's didn’t work at all. Yes, six years passed from when Ladd left to when he returned; a lot changes over six years. But the bottom line is the attempt to rekindle line magic between Ladd and Jonathan Toews failed. Just wonder if this would go the same way.

We talked to Jonathan Toews on Tuesday morning and he said the back is not the issue. I don't believe it's another injury. The problem is, I don't know what the problem is. Toews has snapped out of these slumps before but this one seems to be lingering. I'm sure the confidence is shaken; how can it not be? We're all human, and even the best question themselves at times. I still think Toews will find the offense again but I don't think his current performances have anything to do with an injury.

Let's address Toews’ faceoff percentage first: it's fine. For the season, he's winning 57.5 percent of his faceoffs, good for sixth in the NHL. Outside of that awful Washington game, he's been around 50 percent or better in recent games.

Regarding Kruger, it's tough to say. The Blackhawks are looking for more balance and more scoring, and if those two categories don't improve the changes will continue regardless of who's in the lineup. Does coach Joel Quenneville go back to the third line that was working before Kruger was hurt (when he was with Dennis Rasmussen and Richard Panik)? He could. Just depends on how the Blackhawks are trending when Kruger does return.

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They could. Whether or not they do, I'm not sure yet. The Blackhawks did that with Brandon Saad back in the spring of 2012 once the Saginaw Spirit’s season ended. He played in two postseason games. My opinion, if the Blackhawks did it with anyone it would be DeBrincat. Even if he doesn't play, it’s a good chance to be around and practice with the team.

I know what you're referring to and all that article said was Vanek could be a possibility. As of Wednesday, the Red Wings are 14th in the Eastern Conference with 46 points. Sounds like they’re out of it, until you see they’re only four points from eighth place. As I said above, some of these teams are going to want to see where they are in a few weeks. As for cost, I wouldn't give up much past a pick, maybe two, but not high ones.

As of now, according to Cap Friendly, Hartman is eligible for the expansion draft. As far as the likelihood that Las Vegas takes him, it’s possible. It depends on what Vegas wants and needs. The Blackhawks, like everyone else, will lose one (and only one) player. Will Vegas want defensemen? Will they want a two-way player? But absolutely, Hartman would be available.

I'm guessing I've had a few of those and, to my recollection, I didn't dislike them. Honestly, I'm not as much of a wine aficionado as I've led the Twitter world to believe. Pinot noirs aren't my favorite (pretty light), love Malbecs, most French and Italian wines and you really have to talk me into a Chardonnay (I do like the ones that are out of steel drums now; just not a fan of the oak taste). Cheers!