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Celebrating Hawks know changes are coming

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO – John Madden won two Stanley Cups in New Jersey. Andrew Ladd won one with Carolina.

But neither had experienced what they've gotten from Blackhawks fans since helping the Hawks win their first Cup in 49 years. Since winning the Cup, the Hawks have become pseudo rock stars around town -- culminating with Friday's massive parade and rally, which drew an estimated 2 million people.

"It doesn't compare, honestly," Madden said, when asked to compare this Cup celebration with the ones in the Garden State. "I'm not sure if it was just being in such a great city or whatever, but you know, it was crazy. Nothing like I've ever experienced before."

Ladd agreed during a meeting with reporters in a season wrap-up session on Saturday at United Center.

" was walking down the street with the Stanley Cup and most people (barely) blinked an eye. Here you can't walk two feet without getting mobbed," he said. "It's pretty crazy. Fun. We've got a young group that … I think we enjoy the attention."

Indeed, the Hawks' Stanley Cup victory party is still ongoing. The Cup is set to make appearances at the nationally televised White Sox-Cubs game at Wrigley Field on Sunday night, then travel West with some Hawks players to appear on NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" Monday night.

Yet as much as they celebrate there's also a thought on all of their minds that isn't as fun to ponder. It's the business side of professional hockey, when contracts go toe-to-toe with a salary cap. So while the party continues, the front office is already busy planning for next season.

First will be the NHL Entry Draft June 25-26 in Los Angeles. After that, it's time to make some hard decisions about free agents before the July 1 free agency period begins.
"It's a puzzle that you're trying to put together," Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said. "There's not one way to approach it. We've been preparing for this for a long time. It's not something that caught us off-guard. We'd love to have everybody back, but that's just not a possibility. So, we've got to move on."

Oddly enough, making Bowman's job even more difficult is that captain Jonathan Toews won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, which kicks in a $1.3 million bonus in his contract that counts against the cap. That amount alone could be worth a solid player.

Not that Bowman is begrudging the extra money to his team's captain and the winner of an Olympic gold medal and Stanley Cup in the same year.

"Obviously it will have an impact, but I don't think you can argue with that," he said. "He was very well deserving of that trophy if you look at his performance over the playoffs and the whole season. What a magical year for him."

Magical for all of the Hawks, actually. Magical for the entire city.

That's why Bowman is actually looking forward to his job this off-season. It's on him and others in the front office to keep the momentum rolling into next season, regardless of who goes or stays. The word "dynasty" is being thrown around now regarding the Hawks, simply because two of their biggest stars – Toews, 22, and Patrick Kane, 21 – are so young.

Norris Trophy finalist defenseman Duncan Keith is also locked up with a long-term deal in the prime of his career and star forward Marian Hossa also has a long-term deal. On Saturday, Bowman was asked about building a "dynasty" on West Madison Ave.

He didn't run away from the idea.

"That's what we're shooting for," he said. "We've said that all along. We don't want this to be a short-term thing. Other organizations have been able to do it over the years, and we want to be in that group of teams that's competing for the Cup every year."

Players would like to see it happen too, but realize they might not be part of the picture.
Madden, 37, will be an unrestricted free agent. Ladd will be a restricted free agent. Rookie goalie Antti Niemi, also a restricted free agent, will almost assuredly be re-signed with a healthy pay raise. Other moves might be made to clear cap space, as well.
"It's a puzzle that you're trying to put together.  There's not one way to approach it. We've been preparing for this for a long time. It's not something that caught us off-guard. We'd love to have everybody back, but that's just not a possibility. So, we've got to move on." -- Hawks' GM Stan Bowman on Chicago's salary cap situation

That has led to speculation about players possibly being traded with years left on their contracts -- such as Patrick Sharp, Dustin Byfuglien or Kris Versteeg. That trio alone accounted for 28 goals and 52 points in the playoffs.

Bowman said the team's "core group" starts with Toews, Kane, Hossa and Keith, and then the task of adding names to the list becomes like "splitting hairs" from there. There is also another looming issue in goal, where veteran Cristobal Huet is signed for two more years at $5.6 million a season despite losing his starting job to Niemi.

"It's going to be tough," Byfuglien said of impending changes. "We're a good group of guys in here, and a lot of good memories have come along. It's not always a bad thing. We know it's going to happen. We've just got to deal with it."

There's also that large, shiny silver thing going around town reminding everybody of what this team has accomplished. The Stanley Cup has a unique way of easing the pain of transition, and the Hawks just want to bask in it as long as possible.

"There's a lot of things that are going to have to work out, but it's certainly a good problem to have," Bowman said. "We're Stanley Cup champs and I wouldn't want it any other way."

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