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.

TSN coaches poll: Wild favored to win West over Blackhawks

TSN coaches poll: Wild favored to win West over Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups since 2010, and have eliminated the Minnesota Wild from the playoffs three times from 2013-15.

But it's the Wild that NHL coaches believe will win the Western Conference this season as we approach the trade deadline.

In his annual midseason poll, TSN's Bob McKenzie surveyed 25 of 30 coaches to vote on multiple categories, such as the league's best player and the team most likely to win it all.

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According to the survey, 11 coaches predicted the Wild will win the West while the Blackhawks and Sharks tied for second with four votes.

As for winning the Stanley Cup, the Washington Capitals are the favorite, earning 10 votes, followed closely by the reigning champion Pittsburgh Penguins with eight. The Wild and Blackhawks rounded out the poll with three and two votes, respectively.

Joel Quenneville earned one vote as the NHL's best coach, which is three fewer votes than he had last year, despite this year being arguably his most challenging — and best — coaching job since arriving in Chicago, given the youth on the roster.

Extra incentive fuels Tanner Kero in second stint with Blackhawks

Extra incentive fuels Tanner Kero in second stint with Blackhawks

Incentive. For many young prospects trying to latch onto an NHL roster, there's already plenty of it there. It's a chance at playing on a bigger stage, a bigger opportunity for a career and, if you're on a two-way contract, a bigger paycheck.

Tanner Kero already had that incentive but in November, received an even more special one: he and his wife welcomed their first child, a boy. Now when Kero plays, it's not just what it means for him. It's what it means for his family.

"It's been a fun experience. It's something a little extra special that you play for," Kero said. "You get your mind away from the game when you go home. You just relax and enjoy that part of life. It's just something extra to play for and it's been special."

Kero has been making the most of his second shot with the Blackhawks, recording two goals and two assists on the Blackhawks' dads trip. That included a three-point night against the Colorado Avalanche and a building chemistry with line mates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa. 

Coach Joel Quenneville likes what he's seen thus far.

"He did a great job for us," Quenneville said. "Defensively, we like his availability in his own end. We like his positioning offensively. He had a nice couple of games to finish the dads trip but he's been good for us. I like the consistency."

Rockford coach Ted Dent said Kero started playing better in November, not long after Kero became a dad. Whether or not that had anything to do with it Dent didn't know, but the results were there nonetheless.

"I think he'd be the first to say his season started off slow with us and he finally caught his stride, maybe 15-20 games into our season," Dent said. "He was skating better, skating stronger, he had more confidence with the puck and things just came together."

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Kero's line is a good blend of familiarity, defense and skill. Kero and Hinostroza are good friends who played together plenty in Rockford. Hossa is... well, Hossa, and pretty much benefits any line mate.

"It's been good," Kero said. "We've been trying to continue, get some secondary scoring. But we also want to be relied on defensively, be counted on to play in big situations, a defensive draw, at the end of a period or end of a game. We're trying to focus on being good defensively, being simple and hard to play against. We're getting fortunate enough to contribute offensively as well."

Hossa, whose game-winning goal in Boston came off a Kero feed, said the 24-year-old is adapting well.

"Since they called him up he took it to his advantage. Right now he's playing the 200-foot game, [he's] real smart in our zone, doesn't panic, makes the right play at the right time, and he's showing more offensive abilities," Hossa said. "It seems like things are going well for him and we're glad we can help as a third line right now in scoring some important goals. With young players, that's definitely big."

Kero's made an impact and an impression with the Blackhawks. Quenneville said on Sunday that, even when Marcus Kruger returns from his injury, Kero will likely remain where he is – "I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

"That comment tells you the trust level he's gained in Kero," Dent said. "I knew over time that Kero was a player that Q was going to love. I've gotten to know Q over the years and in talking to him I know what he likes in players and it was just a matter of time because Kero's a responsible two-way player. He doesn't cheat the game and he's very aware of his defensive responsibilities and that's what Q loves, first and foremost. A lot of us coaches love that."

Kero is making strides in his second stint with the Blackhawks. He already had plenty of incentive to make an impact on this roster. Now a new father, he has that much more of one.