Thursday, June 24, 2010
By Chris Boden
Stan Bowman had to start somewhere. And the Blackhawks general manager told the media on a 12:30 a.m. conference call that whomever he chose, debate would follow. In this case, it's one of their highest players of impact the last two postseasons.
Speculation already was that Brent Sopel and Ben Eager wouldn't be back, but the salary cap situation requires a couple of bigger-money contracts to be moved out. Dustin Byfuglien's is one. Another may follow at this weekend's draft in Los Angeles. Bowman's made it clear the route the Hawks are going is to restock the roster with high draft picks, if possible, in order to acquire more assets for down the road, who will hopefully be ready to step in and contribute with what is sure to be an annual rite of early summer. That's the cost of having high-end "core" commitments on your roster like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Duncan Keith -- who, unfortunately, had his big night as the deserving Norris winner overshadowed. There are no easy decisions, and the team has to start somewhere.
Byfuglien's 10-goal, 15-point post-season might be missed 10, 11 months from now. Atlanta will try to get more out of him during the regular 82-game campaign where his inconsistencies sometimes frustrated fans, as well as Hawks brass. For now, Bowman says he'll look to the Bickells and Kopeckys to step into more prominent roles, and feels they're ready for that. Troy Brouwer's also capable of playing big, and don't rule out the Hawks' top pick from two years ago, Kyle Beach, who's progressed nicely. When the GM says there are other options they'll look into over the next day or two, don't be surprised if that includes another swift deal. That could bring another early pick or two in addition to the ones he acquired in this trade and the restocking of the farm system will be in full swing while taking care of the cap issues that require immediate attention. Andrew Ladd will have suitors, but being able to re-sign him will keep more veteran grit in the lineup. Niklas Hjalmarsson's and Antti Niemi's financial futures need addressing. The thought here is if there's one more significant move to be made and if management decides to go the route of keeping Cristobal Huet's contract in the minors if they can't wing a trade so he's not counted against the cap, most of this season's heavy lifting, financially, will be done.
Bowman seemed especially excited about the upside of Jeremy Morin -- a second rounder just a year ago who had 47 goals in just 58 games for Kitchener of he OHL. He'll be the biggest asset of this deal right now to keep an eye on until they see what they get from the 24th and 54th picks this weekend.
Two weeks to the very night the Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years, the necessary reconstruction of the roster because of the salary cap was under way.