Hawk Talk: Salary cap issues forced Buff's departure

Hawk Talk: Salary cap issues forced Buff's departure

Thursday, June 24, 2010
1:57 AM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

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.

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Eight draft picks in about 3 ½ hours. It was a busy Saturday for the Blackhawks, and when general manager Stan Bowman talked that afternoon about the team’s Day 2 haul, he came prepared.

“I have my little cheat sheet,” Bowman said of the paper on which he had written the Blackhawks’ eight newest prospects.

After a few days’ worth of moves the Blackhawks focused on the future, taking nine players over two days at the NHL Draft. It was a successful weekend for the Blackhawks, who hosted the draft for the first time and built up assets, especially on the blue line. Five of the Blackhawks’ nine selections were defensemen.

“One of the things we talked about was looking at the market. There’s a high value on defensemen. We’re not necessarily looking at the draft but our team this year and over the next couple of years; those are the assets that are valuable around the league,” Bowman said. “Look at the trade Calgary made [for Travis Hamonic], defensemen are a valuable commodity. That was a priority coming in and we were able to accomplish it.”

What comes next

The Blackhawks got what they wanted at this weekend’s draft but the focus will soon shift, as free agency opens on July 1. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks will have cap-wise come a week from now. Currently, according to CapFriendly.com, they’re $1.445 million over the $75 million cap. It’s doubtful the Blackhawks apply the long-term injured reserve tag on Marian Hossa during the offseason. It’s possible they could still trade Marcus Kruger to gain some space. Bowman said, one way or another, “there will be some movement.”

“We’ll bring some players in, I don’t know how many, what position or what level,” he said. “This is where there’s a lot of activity, the couple weeks in the middle of June until the middle of July. That’s when the most changes happen. We’ll go to work, now that we’re past this.”

Wait for it

The Blackhawks also have to decide whether or not to qualify restricted free agents Dennis Rasmussen and Tomas Jurco. Bowman said that’ll be decided by Monday.

“I’ve had discussions with both agents,” he said. “I don’t have an answer right now but we’ll have that worked out in the next day and a half.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson heard some of the rumors, but not to a large degree. The former Blackhawks defenseman wasn’t spending a lot of time on the internet reading up on his potential fate. He figured he’d still stay put in Chicago.

“But when my agent called me about the 10-team list, I understood it was serious. Stan [Bowman] wouldn’t ask for that unless they made up their mind already,” Hjalmarsson said via conference call on Saturday. “That’s when it hit me that I’m probably not going to put the Hawks jersey on anymore.”

Indeed, Hjalmarsson’s next jersey will be that of the Arizona Coyotes, who acquired him in exchange for defenseman Connor Murphy on Friday. Hjalmarsson’s departure marks the end of the line for another Blackhawks core player, and this one is jarring in how it will change the team’s defense.

Speaking of change, Hjalmarsson faces a lot of it himself now. Sure, there’s the obvious change for a guy who’s played his entire career in one place. It’s new surroundings and a new team, on which he knows former Blackhawks teammate Antti Raanta and fellow countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

But the Coyotes have dealt with a lot of upheaval lately. Goaltender Mike Smith is gone. So is veteran Shane Doan. On Thursday, head coach Dave Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways.

“They’re on a rebuild, a lot of new faces, lot of changes,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s tough to know what to expect but I think they’re a hungry organization that wants to win like other teams. I’m looking forward to try to contribute with playing my game, just try to get the organization back in the playoffs.”

Hjalmarsson should find chemistry with Ekman-Larsson – the two were teammates in the Winter Olympics in Sochi – and Hjalmarsson will likely play a bigger role with the Coyotes. Arizona will probably look to Hjalmarsson a lot during its rebuild, given his Cup-winning history.

The first 24 hours were full of mixed emotions of Hjalmarsson. With his limited no-move clause, he was always a likely candidate to be moved from a Blackhawks team laden will full no-move clauses. He’s turning a page, but he won’t forget his time in Chicago anytime soon.

“I’m trying to always be a positive guy,” Hjalmarsson said. “I spent my whole 20s in Chicago, 10 unbelievable years. I didn’t think I’d win three Cups. Hopefully I can get one more before my career is over. I had the best time in Chicago, enjoyed every single year, playing in front of the best fans in the league. I’ve been spoiled. Now it’s time for me and my family to move on and seize the opportunity in Arizona and create some new fond memories.”