|Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews lead a core of players who should contend for the Stanley Cup for years (Bill Smith / Getty Images).
CHICAGO -- None of the Chicago Blackhawks were all that interested in talking about next season or beyond late Sunday night, with the sting of a 5-4 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final still fresh, but their future appears bright.
Despite their bid to repeat as Stanley Cup champions coming to an end at United Center, the Blackhawks organization is set up to conceivably make long runs in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for years to come.
Chicago already has 19 players on the roster signed to contracts for next season, with elite Finnish center prospect Teuvo Teravainen on the horizon as a potential answer to a long-unfilled gap at second-line center. Their only unrestricted free agents are veteran forward Michal Handzus, depth forward Peter Regin and veteran defenseman Sheldon Brookbank, who split time this season as the sixth defenseman with Michal Rozsival and a couple others. Restricted free agents include forwards Jeremy Morin, who might finally earn a regular spot in the lineup, versatile forward Ben Smith and backup goalie Antti Raanta.
All of their "core group" key players are under contract and the Blackhawks have $67 million currently committed to the salary cap for the 2014-15 season, which could have a cap slightly higher. By all assessments, Chicago will again be considered a top contender for the Stanley Cup yet again.
"It's tough to think about next year right now," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "As we progress in the summer, I'm sure we'll be excited about the fall. Right now, you look back, definitely a lot of good things that we accomplished this year. You know, a lot to be proud of, of what transpired over the course of this season, this series [and] the playoffs. But certainly a lot of good options to start next year when you look at the group we have."
Heading into this offseason, the biggest storyline will likely be the status of contract extensions for elite forwards Jonathan Toews, Chicago's captain, and Patrick Kane, who finished the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs with eight goals and 12 assists in 19 games.
They each have one year left on their current contracts, and the Blackhawks can start negotiating with them starting July 1. If they're able to keep them in place on long-term deals, which Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman expects to do, it's hard to see the Blackhawks as anything but Cup contenders for the foreseeable future.
"It's impressive," Toews said of the Blackhawks' comeback from a 3-1 series deficit against the Kings to force Game 7. "Top to bottom, we've got a lot of talent. I think we've got more character than anything. I could go on and on about that all day. Tough way to go down. It just goes to show how tough it is to win a Stanley Cup, let alone one time, but twice and twice in a row. It's pretty amazing to think what this team has accomplished and again, there's no satisfaction at all for one minute. I think that's the only reason we came this far."