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Do Hawks have a reason for not extending Savard?
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/25/2008 4:55 PM

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More than a month has passed since Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz stood in the outfield grass at Wrigley Field following the news conference for the Winter Classic and stated coach Denis Savard had nothing to worry about regarding a contract extension.

Well, Savard is worried as he enters the final year of his contract waiting for the extension he desperately wants, but the chairman appears reluctant to make it happen for some unknown reason.

These are private worries for Savard, who would never make it a public issue and training camp distraction.

But Savard appears stressed during the first week of camp, thinner and more gray, and he hasn't been his normally enthusiastic self with reporters. It could be he's simply preparing for an incredibly important season. Or he could be wondering what more he must do to get that new deal.

Savard took the Hawks within 3 points of the playoffs last season despite key injuries to Jonathan Toews and Martin Havlat, two of his four best forwards, and with No. 1 goalie Nikolai Khabibulin either hurt or playing poorly.

Is it possible there are some people in the front office that think the Hawks should have made the playoffs last spring?

Be serious. Savard didn't get enough credit for the job he did, bringing the young players along like he did while managing the goaltending situation nicely by calling on Patrick Lalime at key times and getting results.

Now there's Joel Quenneville sitting in the stands and watching practices, working for the organization as a part-time scout and consultant, which is how general manager Dale Tallon explained it.

This isn't to say Quenneville, a former coach in St. Louis and Colorado, is around as a possible successor to Savard - a "safety net," as one Hawks insider called it - should the club get off a poor start and kill the organization's impressive buzz around town.

However, Quenneville's mere presence has started people around the NHL talking up such scenarios, which can only serve as a potential distraction.

Perhaps it's true that Quenneville is only around to do some scouting in the Denver area, where he lives, and consulting. Everyone needs a job, but it looks fishy from the outside in light of Savard being left to dangle.

And then there's the Scotty Bowman factor.

It's possible Wirtz is waiting for Bowman to assess the coaching staff and make a judgment on Savard's abilities behind the bench before extending his contract. The Hawks have said they plan to lean heavily on Bowman in all personnel matters, and they have made a three-year commitment to the legendary coach as senior adviser over hockey operations.

There's just a feeling around the team that you get whenever something is up.

The Hawks need salary cap space in order to solve their problem at center behind Toews, and either trading or waiving Nikolai Khabibulin seems to be the only answer. But that's a hockey issue that a lot of teams have. It's part of getting ready for a season.

The issue with Savard? That's something Rocky Wirtz could make go away with one phone call offering a new contract.