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Warning: Vultures about to circle
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 6/3/2010 2:53 PM | Updated: 6/3/2010 7:33 PM

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PHILADELPHIA - Just hours before the Blackhawks took on the Flyers in Game 3 here Wednesday night, the league's general managers met in a downtown hotel and then raced to the Wachovia Center to watch the Stanley Cup Finals.

They discussed, of course, toughening penalties on head shots, and pondered other rules like the idiotic trapezoid, and the popular shootout that's become much more prevalent than they imagined.

"We never thought there would be this many," said Toronto GM Brian Burke. "The fans like it and we're glad the fans like it, but it's a skill game not a hockey game.

"The number is going up every year and I don't know how to bring that number down. Maybe it's a longer overtime or going to 3-on-3 if there's no score (in the) 4-on-4.

"But I think a lot of us agree the number is too high."

Those discussions were the sideshow to the talks involving trades and free agency, setting the table for what's certain to be an interesting summer.

And at the center of it all are the Hawks and their cap problems, and a defenseman named Niklas Hjalmarsson.

The vultures are swarming and there's a lot of talk about players that might be available, like Kris Versteeg (two more years at $3 million per) and Patrick Sharp (two years at $4.1 million per).

Before the playoffs, Dave Bolland (four years at $3.3 million per) was a candidate, but now that he's healthy, he's proven again he can be a spectacular defensive center in the postseason while contributing offensively. Bolland isn't going anywhere.

Which brings us to Dustin Byfuglien, who has a year left at $3 million and then becomes a restricted free agent.

After another ugly regular season, Byfuglien has become a postseason star due to his ability to camp out in front.

He's been a brilliant irritant and there's no denying how important he's been to this playoff run, but there's also no denying his bad penalties really hurt the Hawks in Game 3 and his teammates did not attempt to hide their frustrations.

And despite the Byfuglien hype, you can teach anyone to stand in front of the net and pop goalies in the head, and in a league known more for ballet than hitting now, it's difficult to get anyone out of the crease.

Dino Ciccarelli was a half-foot shorter and 100 pounds lighter than Byfuglien and he scored 600 goals standing in front of the net at a time when you could break a stick over a guy's back without getting called, so let's not pretend this is a job only Byfuglien can do.

Besides, he's a guy who produces little during the regular season and his value will never be greater than it is right now.

The Hawks can start by calling Florida GM Dale Tallon, who was here at the meetings and attended Game 3 and knows the Hawks better than anyone outside the organization.

So after this Cup run is over - and their Cup runneth over - the Hawks will have some tough decisions to make, and NHL GMs aren't likely to bail them out by taking off their hands a Cristobal Huet or Brian Campbell, at least that's the impression we got while talking to a few of them here this week.

The Hawks have other things on their minds at the moment, but soon enough their focus will shift to getting under the cap while protecting restricted free agents like Hjalmarsson, Antti Niemi and Andrew Ladd, all candidates for offer sheets.

It may be impossible for the Hawks to match an offer for Hjalmarsson, whose stock is soaring after a great playoff run. Any team could offer him four years at $3 million annually and only owe the Hawks a second-rounder as compensation.

Niemi may be equally difficult to retain, and, wow, wouldn't Tallon enjoy sticking it to his old bosses by signing one of the Hawks' key RFAs, like Hjalmarsson, to a monster proposal?

How would the Red Wings look with Niemi in net?

Of course, there is good news here, and that's the way all these players can increase their value quickly and make everyone happy in the process.

By winning the Stanley Cup.