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Blackhawks doing their best to embrace change

by Brian Hedger /
CHICAGO -- Just how many other shoes do the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks have left to drop?
None that are planned, said Hawks GM Stan Bowman, who spoke with reporters on Thursday evening via teleconference just hours after trading forward Andrew Ladd to Atlanta for 22-year old defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy and a second-round pick in next year’s NHL Entry Draft.
It was the team's third deal in the last week and Bowman thinks it could be the last -- unless something else piques his interest.
"At this point, we're content with where we're at roster-wise," said Bowman, who now has moved five members of the Hawks' Cup championship team in the last week to stay under the League's salary cap. "Now we can focus on what’s out there on the free agent market. We have alleviated the situation we were in. I think from now on, we can look to see if we can find maybe some pieces to add to the mix."

More affordable pieces, that is, such as 6-foot-8 former Minnesota defenseman John Scott, who reportedly agreed to a two-year deal late Thursday.
The fact the Hawks were squeezed up against the cap ceiling was a surprise to nobody, but the amount of talent, grit and good locker room chemistry that had to be shipped out in order to get under the hard cap still took many by surprise. A reported $4 million in performance-based bonus overages following the Cup win, which Bowman said was "about right," didn't do anything to help matters.
Chicago's front office tried to brace the team's rabid fan base for what was in store -- such as dealing favorites Dustin Byfuglien (to Atlanta in an earlier deal) and Kris Versteeg (to Toronto on Wednesday) -- but the shock hasn't worn off yet.
Another fan favorite, Adam Burish, signed a two-year deal with Dallas on Thursday night and veteran fourth-line center John Madden is also expected to land elsewhere. The Hawks didn't tender offers to defensemen Nick Boynton and Jordan Hendry and will have to find a way to get goalie Cristobal Huet's $5.6 million cap hit off the books, as well.
All in all, as many as 10 players who hoisted the Cup after Game 6 in Philadelphia could have new sweaters on when next season begins, but Bowman said he was anticipating that for a long time.
"That's the system we play under," he said. "Every team has the same type of situation as we do. You can't look at it any way other than that. Change is part of sports. It's part of the Blackhawks. We're not afraid of that. You have to embrace it and do your best with it."
That leads to the daunting task of defending the Cup with a strong core of stars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith mixed in with a group of young, unproven prospects. Bowman and Hawks coaches will get a good look at the future soon, during a prospect camp that will run from July 9-12 at Johnny's Ice House in Chicago.
Among those they'll be watching closely will be Vishnevskiy, an offensive defenseman whom Atlanta acquired from Dallas in a deal this past season for goalie Kari Lehtonen. A first-round pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft (No. 27), Vishnevskiy will be among the prospects with a chance to make the Hawks' roster.
He has one year left on his contract and has played five NHL games with Dallas in his career, tallying two points. Last season he played 79 games in the AHL, split between the Texas Stars and Chicago Wolves, registering 10 goals and 36 points.
"He's a very interesting player (with) incredible skating ability," Bowman said. "He's an offensive defenseman with great wheels. We've seen in today's game you have to be able to skate to keep up, and that's his best attribute. He's a player who has a chance to play for us next year."
Bowman lumped Vishnevskiy in with other Hawks prospects on the verge of making the club, such as 23-year old defenseman Brian Connelly and 20-year old defenseman Shawn Lalonde, both of whom saw time in the AHL with Rockford last season.
The deal that sent Kris Versteeg to Toronto also brought back a potential piece to next year's puzzle in 24-year old left wing Viktor Stalberg, along with two young prospects to help stock the Hawks' minor league system. In Stalberg, who is Swedish, the Hawks are hoping to get a player who might ease the loss of Versteeg's 20-goal ability. Stahlberg scored 9 goals and had 5 assists in 40 games as a rookie with the Maple Leafs.
Other youngsters who could make the Hawks' roster include 20-year-old left wing Kyle Beach (2008 first-round pick, No. 11), gritty 25-year-old center Jake Dowell, 23-year old right wing Jack Skille, 21-year old right wing Ben Smith and power forward Bryan Bickell -- who was called up late and played on the first line with Toews and Kane against Nashville in the Western Conference quarterfinals.
Beach was an all-star for the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL last season before finishing in Rockford, tying for the team points lead in the Calder Cup Playoffs with nine. Skille played 63 games in the regular season for Rockford and potted 23 goals to go with 26 assists. Then there's 19-year old American forward prospect Jeremy Morin, whom Bowman plucked from Atlanta in the Byfuglien deal.
Morin played his first season in the OHL this past winter and scored 47 goals and 83 points in just 58 games for the Kitchener Rangers. He'll likely return to Kitchener, but will have a chance to impress his new bosses at the Hawks' prospect camp.
Veteran center Marty Reasoner, a potential fourth-liner to replace Madden, was also acquired in that Byfuglien deal -- which also sent Ben Eager, Brent Sopel and prospect Akim Aliu to the Thrashers. Next up for Bowman is re-signing restricted free agents Niklas Hjalmarsson and goalie Antti Niemi, both of whom are in line for pay raises after their contributions to winning the Cup.

"Our goal is to maintain our status as an elite team by having to make tough decisions," Bowman said. "Change is part of sports, for sure, and it's part of the Blackhawks. We're not afraid of that. You have to embrace it and do your best with it. We're going to go forward with a great core of players and a group of young assets we've added to the mix. I expect to be strong for many years to come."

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