Daily Herald
Hawks seek core strength by re-signing Keith, Toews and Kane
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 9/14/2009 10:49 PM | Updated: 9/15/2009 12:26 AM

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman apparently is looking to get a head start on solving one of his long-term challenges - re-signing Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. All three will be restricted free agents after this season.

According to an ESPN Chicago report, Keith's agent will be in town soon, presumably to begin contract talks with Bowman.

"You can't predict when a contract is going to get signed, but I'm hopeful we're going to be able to work it out with our key guys," Bowman said.

"Our goal, like I've said from the beginning, is to keep the core of our team together, and they're core players. It's an ongoing thing. It's not something you're going to get done overnight.

"We're going to be monitoring that all year and working on it. It's not something we have a specific deadline for, but it's a top priority for us."

Keith will be one of the biggest bargains in the NHL this season, if not the biggest, with a salary of $1.9 million.

While Keith is No. 1 on the Hawks' depth chart on defense, he is the fifth-highest-paid blue liner behind Brian Campbell ($7.1 million), Brent Seabrook ($3.5 million), Cam Barker ($3 million) and Brent Sopel ($2.5 million).

Goalie wars: Corey Crawford and Antti Niemi went head to head in a Monday scrimmage. In a 25-minute period with running time, Niemi allowed no goals and Crawford 1.

Since the battle is to be Cristobal Huet's backup, coach Joel Quenneville was asked if a factor in management's decision might be determining which goalie could best handle not playing for as much as a week to 10 days.

"I don't know if that's going to be part of the equation," Quenneville said. "I think maybe it's who you feel more comfortable with, knowing he has earned the opportunity to play. I think that will be the first criteria."

Fighting chance: It was another feisty day for center Jake Dowell on Monday. Dowell had his second fight in as many days, angrily going after Bryan Bickell, a teammate of his at Rockford last season.

"I'm competing with a few guys, and you just want everyone to know you're serious," said Dowell, a candidate for the one or two jobs open at forward. "Everyone is trying to do what they can to set themselves apart and get noticed."

Joel Quenneville has noticed Dowell.

"I think Jake's had a really good two days," Quenneville said. "Our camp has been very competitive for two days. It's been physical and a lot of guys are pushing. Nobody looks like they're satisfied, especially the guys who know they're fighting for a job."

>The quote: "(Cristobal) Huet is capable of stepping in and doing an even better job than Habby (Nikolai Khabibulin)," Dustin Byfuglien said.

Tip-ins: Center Dave Bolland sat out a second straight day of scrimmages with what the Hawks are calling a sore lower back. - EA Sports' NHL '10 video game with Patrick Kane on the cover hits stores today.