STATE OF THE UNION
A successful spring led directly into a whirlwind summer for the NHL's newest "it" team, but the Chicago Blackhawks remain on strong footing despite the somewhat surprising change at the top from Dale Tallon to Stan Bowman.
"It's fair to say expectations are high," Bowman, the Blackhawks' new general manager, told NHL.com. "I like our team."
There's a lot to like, what with the additions of Marian Hossa
, John Madden and Tomas Kopecky to last season's Western Conference Finalists. Bowman's task now is to keep it all together.
How he plans to do that seems to be the biggest question around the Blackhawks today.
The general assumption is the salary cap will go down for the 2010-11 season, leaving the Hawks, who are operating at upper limit of the salary cap now, in quite a bind with Patrick Kane
, Jonathan Toews
and Duncan Keith
all requiring new contracts after this season.
"I think it's dangerous to speculate because it doesn't really benefit anybody," Bowman said. "We're going to plan for a few different scenarios, but all last year we heard how the cap would go down and it didn't. Now we're hearing it's going to go down next year. It might, but we haven't played a game yet and next year's cap is based on this upcoming year's revenue. Let's wait before we say the sky is falling."
Nevertheless, the organization's stated goal is to keep its young core intact, which means Bowman may have to make some major moves in the coming months to prepare for a falling salary cap. The Hawks just won't have enough coming off the books in order to accommodate signing Kane, Toews and Keith to new contracts.
Could that mean Bowman will put Patrick Sharp
on the trading block? What about Brian Campbell and his big contract? Would he try to move goaltender Cristobal Huet if Corey Crawford
and/or Antti Niemi step up?
"There is no pressure now," Bowman said. "We don't have to make a move to affect our team for this season. We may choose to as we look down the road."
Bowman was promoted from assistant GM because President John McDonough feels Bowman is the best person to balance the team's short-term and long-term goals. For now, though, Hawks fans would do themselves justice by looking at the short term, because thinking Stanley Cup or bust this season is not far-fetched at all.
The Hawks reached the conference finals last season, and at least on paper, got better by adding Hossa, Madden and Kopecky -- even though Hossa likely won't play until December due to recent shoulder surgery.
The other part of the equation is the fact that relatively unheralded youngsters like Kris Versteeg, David Bolland, Troy Brouwer, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Cam Barker, Niklas Hjalmarsson
and Brent Seabrook
are one year further in their development.
"We had some young players contributing (last season), but hopefully they will be even bigger contributors now," Bowman said. "Hopefully they will take on even bigger roles."
One veteran that has to take on a bigger role is Huet now that Nikolai Khabibulin is gone.
Huet signed a four-year contract last summer, but couldn't get into a rhythm last season because he could never supplant Khabibulin on the depth chart. He played well, posting a 2.53 goals-against average and 20 wins, but Bowman believes he'll thrive as the No. 1 goalie based on his history.
"He had his most success in Washington two years ago when he was their guy," Bowman said. "The one stretch last season when he did get into a rhythm was in February and early March when Khabibulin was injured. He probably played his best hockey at that point. With the change to him being the guy he'll be able to get in that groove a little bit easier."
Provided he does, the short term looks very good for the Hawks. The long term remains a mystery that Bowman has been hired to solve.
"How we determine the best course to handle the future remains to be seen," Bowman said. "I'm not pretending to know where the cap is going to be a year from now, but I also don't want to get ahead of myself." PROSPECT ROUNDUP
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer