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Toews, Blackhawks face tough reality of salary cap

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

LAS VEGAS -- Eight days after being crowned the best, Jonathan Toews said the Chicago Blackhawks are prepared for the worst.

Toews knows the salary cap, which will be $71.4 million for the 2015-16 season, is expected to play a role in dismantling some of the pieces to Chicago's Stanley Cup championship team. It's a reality that he expects will hit him and his teammates, the ones who stay and the ones who go, hard soon, perhaps as early as this week.

"We're all pretty realistic about what might happen," Toews said Tuesday from the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where the NHL Awards will take place Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).

The Blackhawks have 14 roster players signed at approximately $65 million, including the $10.5 million salary-cap charges for Toews and Patrick Kane. Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger are restricted free agents, and the Blackhawks' intention is to sign each.

All of that means that it's almost a guarantee that the Blackhawks will have to shed salary from the players who are already signed; it's exactly what they had to do after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, when Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Adam Burish, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel and Antti Niemi all had to move on because of cap constraints.

"All of a sudden it does feel a lot like 2010," Toews said. "It's imminent, and all of a sudden we kind of turn our outlet from the positive to the negative of everything. It's going to be tough for our team and tough for some of the guys knowing we might have to lose a few."

Centers Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette and defensemen Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival are expected to become unrestricted free agents July 1. It's unlikely any of them will be back. Defensemen Kimmo Timonen is expected to retire.

There have been rumors about the Blackhawks potentially looking to trade other core players, including Patrick Sharp ($5.9 million cap charge) and Bryan Bickell ($4 million).

The Blackhawks gave up draft picks to acquire Vermette and Timonen in trades prior to the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline. It's expected that general manager Stan Bowman will try to get some picks back in trades before or during the 2015 NHL Draft, which starts Friday at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla. (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).

Toews, though, said because the Blackhawks have been through this before under Bowman five years ago and still came out successful -- they have won the Cup twice since -- it gives him confidence that the hit will be minor and the expectations will remain the same.

"We always seem to keep that identity and culture in the locker room that we know what to expect from each other," Toews said. "Every team, every year is different. This is no different. Obviously it's unfortunate the high that we just experienced winning the Stanley Cup and all of a sudden having to shift our focus to something that doesn't make us feel so good as far as losing teammates. It's an unfortunate part of the game, but I think everyone grows and moves on from it."

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