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Blackhawks GM Bowman eyes trades to add cap room

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said Wednesday that he's spoken with some general managers about potential trades that could help alleviate another tight squeeze against the NHL salary cap.

"I'm not going to really go into detail on the trade talks," Bowman said. "It's typical of this time of year. We had the [general managers'] meeting [Tuesday], which is a new wrinkle. Normally we have it during the [Stanley Cup Final], so there was a lot of discussion with other managers about what they're looking to do."

The NHL announced the salary cap ceiling would rise from $69 million to $71.4 million for 2015-16. Chicago has about $64 million committed to 14 players for next season, meaning that Bowman almost certainly has to orchestrate a trade or trades to carve out enough cap room to fill out his roster.

It's a contingency he and the Blackhawks' front office have mulled for a long time.

"We've got a lot of plans that we've been thinking of at that [new] number," Bowman said. "It's not something that's good or bad. It's something we've been preparing for."

Though the start of the 2015 NHL Draft is two days away, Bowman said there is still time to work out the framework of trades before or during the two days of selections.

"It's still early," he said. "Those things typically heat up as you get closer and closer to the draft, so I would characterize it as a typical time of year. There's lots of talk among all the general managers, most of which doesn't really go anywhere, but sometimes things will play out and you can make a deal. So, it's your job [as GM] to keep in touch with everybody and see what they're looking to do."

While many Blackhawks fans are bracing for the worst from the pending roster upheaval. Bowman sounds just the opposite: He's approaching it with optimism and even a little eagerness, despite the likely scenario of trading some of the key contributors who helped the Blackhawks hoist the Cup.

"I think there's a lot to be excited about," Bowman said. "Sometimes people don't want to focus on that, but we're excited about what's to come here. We've got a few more days to get into the draft. This is a fun part of the year to find the future group of Chicago Blackhawks. I think there's a lot to be optimistic and excited about as we think of next year and the years to come."

Bowman might not be as confident if he hadn't gone through this scenario twice before and still won championships. Under his retooling efforts, the Blackhawks have won the Cup three times in six seasons, and he's not about to change.

Just as he does every year at this point, Bowman is looking to acquire picks in the draft. His most likely trade chips are forwards Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell, each of whom has been on all three of the Blackhawks' Cup-winning teams. Bowman doesn't have a pick in the first round after trading it to the Arizona Coyotes to get center Antoine Vermette at the NHL Trade Deadline in March. He also traded a second-round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers to get 40-year-old defenseman Kimmo Timonen.

His plan is to get one or both of those picks back through trades.

"You're always wanting to get more draft picks," Bowman said. "That's the goal anytime you lead into a draft. I wouldn't say this is any different than that, so if we can acquire additional picks, which we have been able to do on occasion in previous years, I think that would be great. And if not, we still have seven picks in the draft and we'll make our decisions."

One key issue for the Blackhawks is what happens with forwards Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger. Each can become a restricted free agent July 1 if he doesn't reach agreement on a new contract prior to that date, which means they could sign offer sheets with other teams.

Bowman is expected to match any such offer sheet for Saad and is also on record saying he wants Kruger to return. One thing he won't do is provide updates to the media.

"I don't think it really helps the process," Bowman said. "We like both players. We want to bring them back, but I'm not going to get into a daily dialogue on where we're at with those guys, because I don't think it helps anybody."

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