CHICAGO -- Entering this season, the Chicago Blackhawks had accomplished their "One Goal" organizational credo by winning the Stanley Cup twice in four years.
They fell one goal short of playing for it again this season, losing in overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Final on a goal by Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez. That abruptly ended the reign of the defending Stanley Cup champions with a 5-4 loss.
Less than two days later, the Blackhawks reassembled at United Center to sum it all up by looking back at what happened and forward to next season.
"We lost in the conference finals to the Red Wings five or six years ago and that was treated more as a celebration," left wing Patrick Sharp said Tuesday. "It felt good to get that far. This year it feels pretty disappointing. I feel like we all felt we should still be playing. It's a disappointing time."
It also provided additional meaning to that Blackhawks slogan. The one goal scored by Martinez probably will stick with them throughout an offseason they hoped would be a couple of weeks shorter.
"There's so many things that go through your mind, the what-ifs, and little things that could've gone differently, how confident we would be as a team if we were getting ready to play a game [and] about our chances to win another Stanley Cup," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "We were this close. We've been there before. Some other guys have said it; I've said it too. That when you win a Stanley Cup you get that feeling, that taste for what it's like and then you really realize what you're missing and how special it is. ... This is pretty much the opposite of that, and I guess maybe you learn something from that too, and maybe it makes you even hungrier."
Watching the Kings play the New York Rangers in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final should add to that hunger. Game 1 of that series is Wednesday at Staples Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
"It won't be easy to watch the next week or so, to watch those two teams fight it out for the Stanley Cup," Toews said. "Maybe in a way, right now it's tough to do that. But to look at the bright side and think of what good can come from this and how our team can grow from it."
The Blackhawks are getting ready for what's sure to be another interesting summer.
They have 19 players signed for next season, for a total of $66.4 million, according to Capgeek.com, and the biggest story likely will begin July 1 when free agency opens. That's the day teams can start negotiating contract extensions for their players, and the Blackhawks are expected to commence talks with Toews, their top center, and right wing Patrick Kane.
They're the faces of the franchise and each is represented by agent Pat Brisson. Each signed an identical five-year contract worth $31.5 million in December 2009, with charges against the NHL salary cap of $6.3 million per season, and they have one season left before reaching unrestricted free agency.
They are expected to get large bumps in pay, with corresponding cap charges. Prior to training camp this season Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said the organization would make sure Toews and Kane remain in Chicago long-term. He didn't back off that position Tuesday.
"It's the highest priority for us," Bowman said. "Looking at next year, there's no doubt that's what we're going to do. We made it clear. We've never wavered from that. There's no doubting the importance of those two players. The direction this franchise has taken has really been in tandem with those two players. When Patrick and Jonathan came on to the scene, it really breathed life into our franchise and into our team. They've played a huge part in this."
Neither the players nor Bowman delved into what kind of salary increase it might take and no timeline was set on when the contracts may get done. Brisson is the agent for Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who in 2013-14 finished the first year of a 12-year contract extension worth a reported $104.4 million that carries a cap charge of $8.7 million a season.
That contract extension was agreed to prior to the 2012-13 season, under the previous collective bargaining agreement. The new CBA limits contracts to seven years, but allows an eighth year for a player re-signing with his team.
"The negotiations, that's something I'm not going to do publicly, but we have a great relationship with Pat Brisson," Bowman said. "He's the best agent in the game. He gets deals done. We're excited to work with him and get that worked out."
The Blackhawks' front office could be faced with a challenging situation in regard to staying Stanley Cup contenders under the salary cap. The amount is expected to rise again next season, but how much isn't known.
There is speculation one of Bowman's core-group players might be traded to allow Toews and Kane to stay put. Asked if that's a possibility, Bowman cracked a smile before answering.
"Well, that's the goal, is to keep this thing going," he said. "The reason we've been able to do that is two-fold. One, we've been able to keep the main players together. Two, we've been able to bring in young players and they've been able to support the role. That's why we put so much focus on drafting [and] developing players, and we plan to continue that."
Look no further than the current roster. Forwards Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Ben Smith and Brandon Bollig were drafted by the Blackhawks, came up through the organizational system and have worked themselves into regular roles. Defenseman Nick Leddy took almost the exact same path after being drafted by the Minnesota Wild and having his rights traded to the Blackhawks during the 2009-10 season. Bowman said he thinks there may be a couple prospects close to reaching the NHL soon, including forward Jeremy Morin, after spending enough time in college or the American Hockey League.
"We have a good number of young players in Rockford [AHL] on the doorstep [and] have some young kids in college, maybe not on the doorstep but a few years away," Bowman said. "They're not all going to make it, but when you have a pool of 10 to 12 guys and need a couple of them to pull through, we're confident we can make that happen."
Just as the players on the NHL roster feel confident they can attain the "One Goal" that remains the Blackhawks' motto.
"I'm not going to sit here and say I think we can win multiple Cups," Sharp said. "I think everyone needs to realize how hard it is to get to the Stanley Cup Final and how hard it is to win Stanley Cups, but we've done it with this group. I'd like to think we can still be playing right now. I know a lot of guys in our locker room feel the same way. I'm not sure what Stan's going to do with the lineup and the roster, but I believe in the team that we have here and the core group of guys and feel that we can get back to that situation again."
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