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Columnist
Break up the Hawks? That's OK with Red Wings coach Babcock
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 5/19/2009 12:10 AM

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DETROIT - Red Wings coach Mike Babcock admitted Monday to being a closet Blackhawks fan.

Well, sort of.

With an eye to the future, Babcock said he liked it during the regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs whenever the Hawks scored, knowing the better this young team did, the more difficult it would be to keep it together because of salary-cap concerns.

"That's the facts," Babcock said. "I can't wait. They've got way too much skill. And so the only way we can eliminate their skill is by the salary cap getting involved here.

"So the more goals those young guys score - you may laugh - but that's the truth. When you're on the outside looking in, you just keep in the regular season hoping that 32 (Kris Versteeg) is going to snipe one more and get another one, get another one, get another one. The salaries just creep up, and they can't have all the players."

Starting this off-season, that's going to be the challenge for Hawks general manager Dale Tallon - keeping everyone happy financially going forward into the world of elite teams. It's going to be very difficult, particularly if the cap goes down from where it sits ($56.7 million).

This summer alone Tallon is facing re-signing restricted free agents Versteeg, Dave Bolland, Cam Barker, Ben Eager and Troy Brouwer, and those negotiations could get sticky.

There also will be decisions to make on unrestricted free agents Martin Havlat, Nikolai Khabibulin, Sammy Pahlsson and Matt Walker.

Of course, if the Hawks don't re-sign either Havlat or Khabibulin, that would give Tallon almost $13 million to spend elsewhere.

After next season comes what the rest of the NHL is waiting to see play out - how the Hawks figure a way to re-sign Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith with only so much money to go around.

But, Hawks fans, take heart. The Red Wings have managed to keep their stars happy, some taking hometown discounts to stay with a powerhouse, and I believe Tallon will find similar success when the time comes.

Chicago is a great place to play hockey now, and Toews, Kane and Keith don't seem to be the kind of guys who will chase the money as long as they aren't low-balled.

"The scary thing about this new world is you walk out and say thanks for everything, and they go somewhere else for more money," Babcock said.