CHICAGO -- The goal hasn't changed for the Chicago Blackhawks, but the roster must before another chase for the Stanley Cup begins.
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman doesn't need to pick apart the bulk of his team, like he did after winning the Cup in 2010, but somebody under contract won't be in Chicago for the 2014-15 season thanks to another salary-cap issue.
Following Bowman's free-agent acquisition of veteran center Brad Richards on July 1, the Blackhawks are over the NHL's $69 million hard salary cap by $2.2 million, according to CapGeek.com.
"We certainly have to be ready to go by October, that's the goal," Bowman said Friday at the annual Blackhawks Convention at the Chicago Hilton. "A lot of things change between now and then. You have to display some patience."
Bowman is setting a good example, but fans and media aren't as willing to wait. The fact one, or more, players won't be with the organization much longer will be a storyline for the Blackhawks until something happens.
"Like I said all along, we have some ideas of what we're going to do," Bowman said. "A lot of things happen once camps open, both for us and for other teams, in terms of players maybe you expect to meet expectations don't quite do it and certain teams are looking around trying to find players. I always think you're always in a good position when you have a lot of established players. I think that's better than the other way around."
The Blackhawks have 23 players under contract for next year, according to CapGeek, but one of them is top prospect Teuvo Teravainen, a forward who might start the year with Rockford of the American Hockey League. Without his $894,167 salary-cap charge included, the Blackhawks are $1.3 million over.
Somebody has to go. Those who get mentioned most are defensemen Johnny Oduya, forward Patrick Sharp, defenseman Brent Seabrook and defenseman Michal Rozsival. Forward Bryan Bickell also gets mentioned on occasion.
Oduya ($3.375 million) and Rozsival ($2.2 million) each has one year left on his contract. Sharp, who led the Blackhawks with 78 points last season, has three years left with a $5.9 million annual cap charge. Seabrook has two years remaining with a $5.8 million charge, and Bickell ($4 million) is heading into the second season of a four-year contract extension.
"You listen to it," Oduya said of the speculation. "Obviously you know the reality of the business. I've been around long enough to realize what could happen and what could not happen, but as of now I'm a Chicago Blackhawk and very happy to be. Whatever happens, I have to deal with that in the future."
Listening to Bowman talk, the situation might not get solved until training camp or preseason.
"I wouldn't say [you're] nervous, but you know the reality of the business," Oduya said. "I've been around for a couple of these situations, where you might be a little bit over [the cap], or on the other hand, you are the cheaper player, so to say, where you can fit in a different way. [There's] not really much you can do more than kind of realize what the situation is and you prepare for the season the same way."
The Blackhawks reportedly were listening to offers for Sharp leading up to the 2014 NHL Draft. Sharp's agent, Rick Curran, told reporters he was told by Bowman they weren't going to trade his client. Friday, the veteran said he's trying to take it all in stride.
"There's going to be talk, discussion, rumors," Sharp said. "It's part of the business. But I think what my agent said was pretty self-explanatory. I've been able to get away from hockey and kind of relax a little. I'm looking forward to training and playing a great next year."
The Blackhawks also have some cap-related decisions looming beyond next season. After signing captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to identical eight-year contract extensions, with a reported cap charge of $10.5 million each, Bowman's challenge might just be starting.
Talented 21-year old forward Brandon Saad will become a restricted free agent after this season and could get a significant pay hike. The contracts for Toews and Kane begin in 2015-16.
According to CapGeek, the Blackhawks are already at $65.7 million for 15 signed players in 2015-16. Those outside the organization wonder how Bowman plans to retain his core group of elite talent, stay under the salary cap, and keep the Blackhawks among the NHL elite.
Those inside the franchise don't seem that concerned.
"I think the contracts that [Kane] and [Toews] signed are great deals," Sharp said. "We're happy for them. As far as the team, we've been through this before. We remember what it was like in 2009-10. If you start worrying about it and start paying attention to all the speculation and rumors, you're going to drive yourself crazy. It's my job to play hockey and that's what I'm going to do."
Richards, who signed a cap-friendly, one-year contract reportedly worth $2 million, has the bigger concern of adjusting to new surroundings and an opportunity to again chase the Stanley Cup. He was bought out by the New York Rangers after losing the 2014 Final to the Los Angeles Kings.
"When I first came in the League, the Detroits, the Colorados, teams like that were getting all the free agents because they were winning and they were relevant every year," Richards said. "And now you see what they're doing here, and whatever they're doing, it's working. It's a team that's relevant every day, and every year they seem to be making a run, and that's all you can ask for as a player."
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