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Blackhawks face questions about top line, salary cap

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- It's been another offseason of change for the Chicago Blackhawks following a Stanley Cup championship.

As was the case in the summer of 2010, the NHL salary cap has forced the Blackhawks to overhaul their roster. Chicago's talent and leadership have been pared through trades and departures in free agency, and more losses could happen before the start of the season.

Here are three questions facing the Blackhawks:

Who will fill Brandon Saad's spot on the top line? Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said that coveted role might go to 20-year-old forward Marko Dano, at least to start out.

Dano was acquired in the June 30 trade that sent Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He's a good skater, has high-end skill, and packed on muscle the past couple years to help his play around the net.

Dano's father played with Marian Hossa in Slovakia years ago, and Dano is excited to get that same opportunity in the NHL. He's always kept a close eye on Hossa's career and now might end up on Chicago's top line with Hossa and center Jonathan Toews.

"It's pretty cool that I can play with him now on [the same] team," Dano said at Blackhawks development camp. "He's a great player. He's played so many years here, so there are a lot of things I can learn from him and also from the other guys."

Will the Blackhawks have to make more moves to get under the NHL salary cap? As things stand now, yes. Chicago is $393,462 over the $71.4 million salary cap for 2015-16 with an NHL roster of 22 players (14 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies), according to war-on-ice.com.

That figure doesn't include fourth-line forwards Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom, who remain restricted free agents.

Kruger, the fourth-line center and a top penalty-killer, has played a key role in each of Chicago's past two championships. He's reportedly waiting to see if general manager Stan Bowman can free enough cap space to sign him long-term, which could be the case with Nordstrom.

Either way, the Blackhawks have unfinished business heading into training camp, much like they did a year ago, when they traded defenseman Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders to get under the cap. This year, the cost might be veteran forwards Bryan Bickell or Kris Versteeg, or it could be somebody who's not thought to be on the trade block.

Will the top four defensemen be as effective with Trevor Daley replacing Johnny Oduya? If the Blackhawks last season proved anything, it was that the Stanley Cup can be won with four defensemen handling the vast majority of the work.

Oduya, 33, who signed a two-year contract with the Dallas Stars on July 15, was one of Chicago's top four defenders. The good news for the Blackhawks is that Daley, acquired from the Stars in the trade for Patrick Sharp, is comparable in build, age and skating ability. He moves the puck quickly, has loads of experience, and has high-end offensive instincts, scoring 16 goals in a 38-point season for the Stars in 2014-15.

Daley, who turns 32 on Oct. 9, was minus-13 last season, and his 45.9 shot attempts percentage (SAT%) during 5-on-5 play also was subpar. He'll have to improve in his end to appease defensive-minded Quenneville.

"I'm coming in looking just to fit in, follow their lead and listen and learn, because I want to win [the Cup] with them," Daley said July 13, three days after he and Ryan Garbutt were acquired by Chicago. "I'm willing to do whatever I'm supposed to do."

Author: Brian Hedger | NHL.com Correspondent

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