CHICAGO – Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman just smiled when he was asked if he could explain how his team was able to stun the Boston Bruins with two late goals 17 seconds apart to win Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final and capture its second championship in 36 months.
"We just kept going," he said at United Center on Thursday, three days after the Blackhawks' historic comeback. "I've referenced a few times how that was sort of the symbol for our team, is we were relentless all year long – starting off with the streak [of 24 games without a regulation loss] we had.
"We just always were looking full steam ahead. We never took time to, I guess, acknowledge what we had accomplished or sat back. We just were always looking ahead … I thought it was sort of a fitting ending to a fabulous season."
Indeed it was, but Chicago's front office won't have much time to enjoy it -- not with the NHL Draft coming on Sunday in Newark, N.J., (3 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN), and the start of free agency looming five days later.
Perhaps the most important item on Bowman's to-do list is negotiating a new deal with 27-year old forward Bryan Bickell, who's set to become an unrestricted free agent. Five other players are also set to become UFAs – backup goalie Ray Emery, forwards Viktor Stalberg, Michal Handzus and Jamal Mayers, and defenseman Michal Rozsival. In addition, 22-year old defenseman Nick Leddy and 23-year-old center Marcus Kruger become restricted free agents.
With the NHL's salary cap set to drop by about $6 million under the new collective bargaining agreement, Bowman will have to make some important decisions. However, he said it won't be like what happened in 2010, when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup but had to let go several players in order to get under the cap.
"We've talked about this leading up until today and we've had some plans in place for a long time," Bowman said. "We are going to make a few changes, but it's not going to be like before.
"We don't have it all sorted out yet, but we have an idea of what we want to do."
Chicago's cap cushion will be roughly $8 million following compliance buyouts for defenseman Steve Montador and forward Rostislav Olesz, both of which Bowman made official Thursday. The biggest decision is whether to keep Bickell, who is sure to get a healthy raise no matter where he winds up.
After agreeing to a three-year, one-way contract with a $600,000 cap hit following Chicago's 2010 Stanley Cup season, Bickell figured to get a sizeable raise thus summer after scoring nine goals and adding 14 assists in 48 regular-season games as a third-line left wing. But by scoring nine goals and adding eight assists during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Bickell likely drove his price tag even higher -- the question is whether the Blackhawks will pay it.
Would Bickell, who spent much of the last two rounds on the top two lines and played the Final despite a sprained ligament in his right knee, give the Blackhawks a hometown discount?
"Yeah, definitely," he said. "This is a great team. We have won two Cups in four years and there's going to be many more. We have a great core of guys. It starts with the coaching and up in the [front] office and the team. It's a great feeling to be a part of it."
The Blackhawks could be outbid by other teams, but Bickell said money isn't everything.
"You got to do what makes you happy," he said. "I know there are a lot of good teams around this League, and there are a lot of teams you won't have as much fun if I stayed here. This is a great city. I enjoy it here. I got drafted here. I think this is a second home for me. We're going to work on something and hopefully it works out for the best."
Bowman is hopeful there's a deal to be made.
"We're excited for him and we certainly want to keep him here," Bowman said. "It's a puzzle to put together and try to work it out, but I think he wants to be here. I know he's said that publicly and we certainly want him back, so we're going to do everything we can to make that happen."
Another question is whether to keep Emery, who went 17-1-0 while splitting the goaltending with Corey Crawford for much of the regular season. But Emery was injured late in the season and never got into a playoff game -- Crawford played every second of all 23 postseason contests.
Bowman has signed 24-year-old Finnish goalie prospect Antti Raanta to a one-year contract that, according to Capgeek.com, would pay him $1.4 million if he were to become Crawford's backup. But Bowman cautioned against assuming that will happen, and Emery also left the door open for a return.
"I'd love to stay here," he said. "[Let's] see how that works out with what Chicago has in mind and see how the cards kind of play [out], but definitely [I] would like to stay here."
Teams can sign free agents beginning July 5, and forward Marian Hossa knows not everyone from the Cup-winning team will be back in the fall.
"Like every year, we may lose somebody -- but I don't think it's going to be like in 2010 when so many people left," he said. "I believe we're going to find a way to keep as [many] pieces as we can."