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Blackhawks await ruling by NHL, players union
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff

Kris Versteeg -- along with Cam Barker, Ben Eager, Troy Brouwer, Colin Fraser and Aaron Johnson -- could be in for a big payday if the NHL invalidates the Blackhawks' qualifying offers.

 

Associated Press file

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Published: 7/6/2009 12:03 AM

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Did the Blackhawks make a major, potentially devastating clerical mistake when offering their restricted free agents qualifying contract offers last week, or is there nothing to worry about?

Nobody seems to know right now. The NHL concluded its investigation of the matter Sunday, turning over its findings to the NHL Players Association.

What's at stake is critical to the Hawks' off-season plans because it could affect the status of free agents Kris Versteeg, Cam Barker, Ben Eager, Troy Brouwer, Colin Fraser and Aaron Johnson.

Should it be ruled the Hawks did not notify the players and their agents they were being made qualifying contract offers as restricted free agents properly by the June 29 deadline, all six players could be declared unrestricted free agents.

Tallon told TSN.ca the players were mailed their offers before the deadline and would have been postmarked accordingly.

However, Johnson's agent, Allan Walsh, was quoted in a published report claiming that as of Saturday neither he nor his client had received the Hawks' mailed offer.

Walsh also is the agent for Martin Havlat and had bitter words for Hawks management after those negotiations failed to end in a new contract with Tallon eventually signing Marian Hossa instead.

It would be a major setback for the Hawks should they lose their exclusive rights to all six players, Versteeg and Barker in particular.

There already is speculation that if Barker hits the market as an unrestricted free agent, the Vancouver Canucks and the Edmonton Oilers would be waiting with sizable offers, possibly approaching $3 million a year.

Barker earned $984,000 last season and Versteeg just $490,000. A qualifying offer usually is the player's salary, plus a 10 percent raise, which often serves as the starting point for further negotiations.

Such offers by the Hawks would mean both Barker and Versteeg were submitted offers of less than $1 million.

Should Versteeg and Barker become unrestricted free agents they could establish their new worth on the open market.

Whichever way the situation is analyzed, the bottom line is an unfavorable ruling would not be good for a Hawks team that already has serious salary-cap issues to deal with.

The Hawks' annual prospects camp begins today at Johnny's Ice House near the United Center, but the big story certainly will be what's happening off the ice and how the NHL and NHLPA rule.

The Hawks' only public comment so far was a statement issued by Tallon on Saturday saying the team had followed the same protocol as in past years and the club was confident the matter would be resolved.

In 2000, New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello did not file the proper paperwork for restricted free agents Brian Rafalski and John Madden.

Madden would have earned $550,000 and Rafalski $450,000 with their qualifying offers, but because of the blunder both players were able to test free agency and establish their worth.

As a result, the Devils had to give Rafalski a four-year, $11 million contract and Madden a four-year, $7 million deal in order to keep them.