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Blackhawks 'strive to keep winning' amid turnover

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks have made a habit of having the Stanley Cup at their annual fan convention, and they don't have plans to stop just because of their yearly roster retooling.

Friday at the Hilton Chicago, the Blackhawks used the silver trophy to begin the weekend for the third time since 2010, celebrating their latest championship while keeping an eye on the future.

The NHL's $71.4 million salary cap has forced the departure of some key players, including Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad and Johnny Oduya, but the organizational mantra of "One Goal" remains intact.

"It's not going to be easy, but without disrespect to those guys [who aren't here] … we still have a lot of talent, a lot of character on this team, and we can find ways to let other players come in and assume more responsibility, and that culture's not going to change," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "We're going to strive to keep winning."

They'll have to do it again without a large chunk of the roster that helped them win the Cup against the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 15. Six players have either been traded or signed elsewhere as a free agent, and that is likely to increase before training camp in September.

The Blackhawks aren't expected to re-sign forward Daniel Carcillo or defenseman Kyle Cumiskey, and might not work out a contract for veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival. They need to work out a contract for three restricted free agents, including center Marcus Kruger, while up against the cap ceiling (NHL teams are allowed to exceed the cap by up to 10 percent in the offseason).

More Chicago regulars could wind up playing elsewhere, but that won't change the Blackhawks' focus. They've won the Cup after undergoing a sea change, most notably in 2010, so what's to say they can't do it again?

"[We have] a lot of confidence, especially looking at our roster going into next season," right wing Patrick Kane said. "We still have a really good roster and we can be as good a team as we were last year. Going into next season, I think we all have that one goal of trying to repeat. Not that we're looking ahead or anything like that, but we'll enjoy this one and come in as ready as possible for next year."

Losing Saad and Sharp will be particularly difficult to overcome. Sharp is the first to be traded from the Blackhawks' core group who were signed to long-term contracts a few years ago, and Saad was seen as about to join it.

They're gone now, which means some large roles will have to be filled by center Artem Anisimov, rookie forward Marko Dano and, likely, Russian rookie left wing Artemi Panarin.

Kane and Toews will be asked to pick up more slack. Their identical salary raises, which kick in this season, are a big reason for the large turnover. Each has a $10.5 million annual charge which combined accounts for 29.4 percent of the salary cap, after the two took up 18.3 percent last season.

The way Toews sees it, the Blackhawks must approach this season as if they lost some key players to season-ending injuries. In the past couple seasons, that scenario has happened and they made long runs in the Stanley Cup Playoffs regardless.

"There's confidence there that we'll always find ways to come back from the deficits that are kind of created from a situation like this," Toews said. "It might not be comparable, but I think when you lose good players to injury, there's always that reaction from guys in the room to try and fill that void, and everyone assumes more responsibility in some way. Everyone chips in to find a way to help us win, and that's kind of what we're going to have to do going forward.

"Given that, I think there's still some talent [left] and some guys with ability who are going to be ready to step up this year."

The front office and coaches are confident. General manager Stan Bowman has learned from the past six seasons, including lessons from the 2010 championship. He dismantled that roster, with more players than now shipped out or not re-signed.

Most of those trades brought back prospects or picks; the trades this time yielded NHL players Anisimov and Dano from the Columbus Blue Jackets, and defenseman Trevor Daley and forward Ryan Garbutt from the Dallas Stars.

"We had a team in 2010, and it was a little bit of a different way that we won it in 2013, and this year was different too," Bowman said. "I think that's a credit to our coaching staff. They've done a great job of finding out what works and what doesn't work. Last year's blueprint might not be identical next year."

Author: Brian Hedger | Correspondent

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