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Time to pay the piper; tough cuts ahead for Hawks
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 6/23/2010 12:00 AM

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Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman admitted Tuesday he has spoken with every other GM in the league over the last week, some of them more than once.

The Hawks' salary-cap problems are no secret. Some very good players off a Stanley Cup championship team are available - there's blood in the water, and rival general managers are circling.

Bowman has tried to prepare fans for this, and the sting of potential changes is soothed by the fact the Hawks did win the 2010 Stanley Cup.

But the reality is, not everyone who hoisted the Cup on that hot evening in Philadelphia can stay. Bowman likely must shed between $10 million and $15 million in payroll before the regular-season opener Oct. 7 at Colorado.

"The core of our team is going to be identical to this year," Bowman said. "I'm not trying to diminish it. We are going to have to move some very good players out, but at the same time I think the fans can be comfortable in knowing the core of this group is going to be together a long time.

"Filling in with the depth is going to be the key, the guys to surround those core players. That's where we have to rely on some young players coming in to make contributions and also some acquisitions we'll have to make to fill some of those spots."

So who stays and who goes? Only Bowman and his staff know the plan as we head into draft weekend Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles.

What might happen? We can only speculate.

On their way out?

Cristobal Huet

2010-11 cap hit: $5.625 million

Signed through: 2012

The debate: This is a no-brainer. Losing Huet's salary has to be Bowman's starting point.

The Hawks will try to trade the veteran goalie, but it's not likely anyone would want that contract for two more years. A buyout still counts a portion of the money against the cap. If the Hawks send Huet to the minors in the fall they still must pay him, but his entire cap hit comes off the books.

Brent Sopel

2010-11 cap hit: $2.333 million

Signed through: 2011

The debate: That's a lot of money to pay your fifth or sixth defenseman. There might be a market for the veteran after his strong work in the playoffs.

Ben Eager

2010-11 salary: He's a restricted free agent

The debate: Eager made $965,000 and even with the minimum 10 percent raise, the Hawks likely will look to go cheaper to fill his fourth-line, tough-guy role with either Bryan Bickell or Kyle Beach.

Adam Burish

2010-11 salary: He's an unrestricted free agent

The debate: Burish made $725,000 last season, and there figure to be several teams interested in him as a total free agent. The Hawks probably won't have the money to keep him, as valuable as he might be on the fourth line.

John Madden

2010-11 salary: He's an unrestricted free agent

The debate: Even if the 37-year-old veteran agreed to play for far less than the $2.75 million he earned, there doesn't appear to be enough money to keep him as a fourth-line center.

Kim Johnsson

2010-11 salary: He's an unrestricted free agent

The debate: There is none. He's gone.

Nick Boynton

2010-11 salary: He's an unrestricted free agent

The debate: While he might be an ideal sixth or seventh defenseman, the $1.5 million he made last season likely puts him out of the mix.

Tough decisions

Patrick Sharp

2010-11 cap hit: $3.9 million

Signed through: 2012

The debate: There shouldn't be one. Sharp is as close as it gets to an elite player at both ends of the ice. There would be a long line of teams interested if he becomes available. He has to be a keeper.

Kris Versteeg

2010-11 cap hit: $3.083 million

Signed through: 2012

The debate: If there has to be a decision between Sharp and Versteeg, two players who do similar things, what's the call? The big contract Versteeg got last summer could come back to hurt him.

Dustin Byfuglien

2010-11 cap hit: $3 million

Signed through: 2011

The debate: While his trade value might never be higher, there are too many reasons to keep him, such as his size, his versatility and his ability to play big in the most important games.

You don't trade guys who take it to a higher level in the playoffs no matter how inconsistent they are in the regular season. If Byfuglien doesn't come to play on a February night in Columbus, who cares about that if he's going to score 11 goals in the playoffs?

Tomas Kopecky

2010-11 cap hit: $1.2 million

Signed through: 2011

The debate: He was excellent in the playoffs, but if Bowman is looking to shed a million here and there, Kopecky definitely has some trade value.

Andrew Ladd

2010-11 salary: He's a restricted free agent

The debate: The question is, how much of a raise from the $1.55 million he made is Ladd going to command? The Hawks would hate to part with this gritty playoff hero, but if he wants well more than $2 million a year it might price him off the team.

Brian Campbell

2010-11 cap hit: $7.14 million

Signed through: 2016

The debate: Bowman said Tuesday the defense is the strength of the team and would be back, which apparently means Campbell.

Nevertheless, if a team showed some interest in the veteran, losing that substantial cap hit would solve a lot of problems but leave the Hawks without one of their dressing-room leaders. This is a tough, tough call.

Troy Brouwer

2010-11 cap hit: $1.025 million

Signed through: 2011

The debate: A 20-goal scoring power forward with a low cap hit. You would think he is safe.

Colin Fraser

2010-11 salary: He's a restricted free agent

The debate: There's nothing wrong with Fraser as next season's fourth-line center, and he would make less than $800,000.

Jack Skille

2010-11 salary: He's a restricted free agent

The debate: There could be a fourth-line job waiting for him, and it helps Skille's cause that his first-round bonus money is off the books.

Bryan Bickell

2010-11 salary: He's a restricted free agent

The debate: His size and low salary should earn him a fourth-line job if Eager and Burish don't return.

Jordan Hendry

2010-11 salary: He's a restricted free agent

The debate: He's everything the Hawks need in a seventh defenseman, and his price is definitely right at less than $1 million.

They'll be back

Marian Hossa

2010-11 cap hit: $5.233 million

Signed through: 2021

The debate: He's a core guy.

Dave Bolland

2010-11 cap hit: $3.375 million

Signed through: 2014

The debate: Is there a better third-line center in the NHL?

Brent Seabrook

2010-11 cap hit: $3.5 million

Signed through: 2011

The debate: His contract is the next big worry for Bowman after he figures this summer out.

Jonathan Toews

2010-11 cap hit: $7.6 million (includes a $1.3 million Conn Smythe Trophy bonus)

Signed through: 2015

The debate: How long should we wait to retire No. 19?

Patrick Kane

2010-11 cap hit: $6.3 million

Signed through: 2015

The debate: Very funny.

Duncan Keith

2010-11 cap hit: $5.551 million

Signed through: 2023

The debate: See Patrick Kane.

Niklas Hjalmarsson

2010-11 salary: He's a restricted free agent

The debate: His contract demands will be worth watching. He made just $666,000 and could ask for more than $2 million.

Antti Niemi

2010-11 salary: He's a restricted free agent

The debate: What's winning the Stanley Cup as a rookie goalie worth? We'll soon find out. Niemi made $827,000 and likely will command at least $3 million. The Hawks will need to pay the man.