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"Nobody brings back the same exact team"

by Arpon Basu / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Forward Patrick Sharp is trying not to think about whether he'll be back to help the Chicago Blackhawks defend their Stanley Cup championship.

Sharp, 33, has a $5.9 million NHL salary-cap charge in 2015-16 and could be the biggest name moved by Chicago during the offseason to create space under the payroll limit. He said Wednesday he's trying to avoid that talk for as long as possible.

"I haven't really put much thought into it," said Sharp, who's been with the Blackhawks since December 2005 and was a member of all three of their Stanley Cup championship teams during the past six seasons. "It's been a whirlwind couple days. To win a third Stanley Cup in this city is something that I'll always remember. It's pretty special. It's a huge accomplishment and these last couple days have been crazy. I'm sure the next few days, when things wind down a little bit, that will be more of a topic of conversation."

Other possible candidates to be moved are forwards Bryan Bickell ($4 million cap charge) and Kris Versteeg, whose $4.4 million cap charge is being split evenly between the Blackhawks and Florida Panthers ($2.2 million each).

General manager Stan Bowman isn't ready to divulge any concrete plans concerning offseason moves. Two days removed from winning the Cup, Bowman said Wednesday it's too early to know anything.

The goal, as it always is for the Blackhawks, will be to keep as much of the core group intact as possible.

"Nobody brings back the same exact team," Bowman said. "There's a lot of things we haven't quite locked down yet. We don't know what the salary-cup number is. That's going to be a part of it. That's going to be released over the next 10 days, probably. We're going to do our best to keep the guys that we can. I wouldn't rule anything out yet, but obviously there will be some changes."

Bowman spoke confidently about several issues that could come up during the offseason.

Asked if goalie Corey Crawford is "untouchable" with his $6 million cap charge, Bowman didn't use that word but did paint the picture of Crawford and backup Scott Darling returning as the goalie tandem.

"It's one thing to have good stats and be a good goalie, but what happens when the pressure's on?" Bowman said. "[Crawford] has able to raise his game in those moments. That's who I want on my side. We're excited to have two great goalies. I love our goaltending. I think that's going to be a strength of our team."

Bowman was just as confident he'll be able to work out a contract with forward Brandon Saad, who can become a restricted free agent July 1. Bowman said he'd also like to bring back fourth-line forwards Andrew Desjardins and Marcus Kruger. Desjardins can become an unrestricted free agent July 1; Kruger can become a restricted free agent.

Regardless of the final cap number, Bowman will have to move some established players to create space for the contract extensions for forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane that kick in next season. Each will count $10.5 million toward Chicago's cap.

Others who might not return are a number of veterans set to become unrestricted free agents, including defenseman Johnny Oduya, center Brad Richards, defenseman Michal Rozsival and forward Daniel Carcillo. Each has interest in staying, but that will depend on how much he's willing to take, how much interest Bowman has in keeping him, and how much cap space is available.

"I know the deal here and there's a lot going on," said Richards, who signed a cap-friendly one-year contract with Chicago last summer specifically to chase the Cup. "I'd never say 'no' to [the possibility of returning], but I know those conversations will have to take place and I understand the cap situation they're in. So I got everything I could ever want out of it, and you never know where it goes from here."

Bowman, coach Joel Quenneville and those assured of returning are convinced the road ahead will include the chance to win more championships.

Using Bowman's cap expertise and the front office's keen assessment of young players, the Blackhawks have won the Cup twice more since breaking a 49-year drought in 2010. The way they see it, there's no reason that should end because of a cap crunch.

"There's a lot to be proud of this year and obviously what we've done in past years," Conn Smythe Trophy-winning defenseman Duncan Keith said. "We're [going to] enjoy this and celebrate it, but we know that come training camp next [season], it's [going to] roll around sooner than later and nobody's [going to] wait around for us … we want to enjoy this, but we also want to keep it going."

Author: Brian Hedger | Correspondent

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