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Current Blackhawks priority: Re-sign restricted free agents
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi

 

Associated Press

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson

 

John Starks | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/3/2010 5:50 PM | Updated: 7/3/2010 5:53 PM

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The newest Blackhawks, the ones acquired in trades for Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd, have a tough act to follow.

If they're even on the roster come opening night in Colorado in three months.

Gone is so much of the depth, experience and clutch play that helped the Hawks win their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.

General manager Stan Bowman had serious salary cap problems to deal with and the decisions he made weren't easy or popular with the fans.

"That's the system we play under," Bowman said. "Every team has the same type of situation as we do. Change is part of sports. It's part of the Blackhawks. You have to embrace it and do your best with it."

Bowman got some high draft picks, including a No.1 from Atlanta for Byfuglien, and some prospects he believes are promising while not disturbing the so-called core of the team that now has been identified as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, Dave Bolland, Antti Niemi and Niklas Hjalmarsson.

"We're going to go forward with a great core of players and a group of young assets we've added to the mix," Bowman said. "I expect to be strong for years to come."

Bowman probably isn't done adding to the roster. The priority now is to re-sign restricted free agents Niemi and Hjalmarsson, then use what money is left to add another free agent.

The Hawks have about $9.1 million of cap space if you count Cristobal Huet's $5.6 million hit that will be coming off the books.

The Hawks got six players in the deals for Byfuglien, Ladd and Versteeg. They also signed defenseman John Scott as a free agent on Friday.

• Marty Reasoner

The 33-year-old veteran center came from Atlanta in the Byfuglien trade and is a candidate to play on the re-built fourth line. In his 11 years in the NHL, Reasoner never has put up big numbers with 82 goals and 141 assists in 624 career games. His cap hit of $1.15 million is affordable.

• John Scott

The 6-foot-8, 258 pound defenseman can also play wing and signed a two-year deal for a little over $1 million. Scott's attributes are his size and the fact that he can fight. In 71 NHL games with Minnesota, he had 1 goal, 2 assists and 111 penalty minutes.

• Jeremy Morin

He also came from Atlanta in the Byfuglien deal and was considered the Thrashers' second-best prospect. He's a left winger who can score goals, bagging 47 last season in 58 games in juniors with Kitchener. He is signed as has a legitimate shot to make the club if he shows he is ready as a 19-year-old.

• Viktor Stalberg

The 24-year-old Swedish left wing came from Toronto in the Versteeg deal and those close to the Maple Leafs are split on his potential.

Stalberg has good size (6-3, 210) and can fly, but he was inconsistent in the American Hockey League and in 40 games with the Leafs this season. He is signed through next season at $850,000.

The Hockey News considered Stalberg Toronto's third-best prospect and wrote: "Stalberg's makeup of hustle and muscle will make him a special NHLer down the road."

• Ivan Vishnevskiy

He's the key to the second deal with Atlanta for Ladd. Vishnevskiy is a great-skating defenseman with a big shot who thinks offense, which could make him a good fit in coach Joel Quenneville's system.

He might need some work on the defensive side of the puck, but if anyone can bring the best out of defensemen such as Vishnevskiy and Scott, it's Quenneville.

Vishnevskiy will come to camp and likely battle for a roster spot with prospects Brian Connelly and Shawn Lalonde.

"I remember back to the draft year and he was a player we were hoping was going to be there when we were picking," Bowman said, recalling 2006, when Vishnevskiy went 27th overall to Dallas. "He's an offensive type defenseman with great wheeels. He's played a couple of NHL games (five), and I spoke to some people recently who said he probably should have played some more games last year in Dallas."

The Hockey News ranked Vishnevskiy the Stars' No. 2 prospect before he was traded to Atlanta in February as part of the deal for goalie Kari Lehtonen.

• Chris DiDomenico

He also came from Toronto for Versteeg and is a gritty 6-1 center who had 7 goals and 15 points in only 12 games in juniors for Drummondville.

• Philippe Paradis

Another part of the Versteeg deal, he's a 19-year-old physical center had 18 goals and 78 penalty minutes in 49 games in juniors for Shawinigan.