Daily Herald
It won't be easy to keep Hawks roster together into next season
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 11/18/2009 12:02 AM

As soon as the Blackhawks sign Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane to contract extensions - and it could happen any day - it will restart the debate over how much of this roster general manager Stan Bowman can keep together into 2010-11 season.

"There's no deal yet, but things are moving along good," said Keith, whose extension could be by as many as 10 years.

"It's just nice to be wanted and a part of this team. I want to be here. I like it here and I like the direction we're going. I think there's going to be a lot of good things happen in the future."

Keith is on the final year of a four-year contract that pays him $1.9 million, which finds him the fifth highest-paid defenseman on the team when he is No. 1 on the depth chart.

"I had no problem with that contract I signed," Keith said. "I was happy with it and I'm still happy with it. It's still a fair penny when it comes down to it. Nobody knew the market was going to change the way it did.

"That's nobody's fault. I have fun playing here and that's the main thing, being with an organization where you want to be."

Toews and Kane are nearing the end of their entry-level deals. Pat Brisson, the agent for both players, has been negotiating with Bowman since before the start of the season.

"I'm not sure when it's going to happen, but we both want to be here," Toews said. "It's exciting just to think about it.

"Hopefully the fans want us to stay here a long time because we do, too. Our focus now is on playing and we'll let those things take care of themselves."

Nobody wants to think about the potential financial problems that lie ahead.

The Hawks already have 12 players signed for next season with a collective cap hit of approximately $42.4 million.

Even if the cap hits for Keith, Toews and Kane were, say, $5 million each, and that's low, it would put the Hawks over the present NHL salary cap of $56.8 million for 15 players.

The cap might go lower next season, or it could stay the same. There's little chance it will go higher than $56.8 million.

The contracts of Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, John Madden, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Adam Burish, Colin Fraser, Jordan Hendry and Antti Niemi also expire after this season, further complicating matters for the Hawks.

Bowman already has gone on record saying not everyone can be back next season, saying tough decisions must be made.

"I'd be lying to you if I didn't think about how nice it would be to have this group stay together," Keith said. "We're all friends and good buddies, but it is a business and the team changes from year to year and things need to happen, especially with the cap.

"Things are probably going to happen eventually. You can't play with the same guys forever, but as players we can only do so much. We have trust in our management that the powers that be are going to do everything they can to keep a strong team together."

Normally it's older teams that must be busted up because of money, not a club this young.

But the Hawks have handcuffed themselves for the future with the big (and some of them unnecessary) contracts given out the last few years to Brian Campbell, Cristobal Huet, Dave Bolland, Cam Barker, Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Sopel.

"In a perfect world it would be awesome to keep this whole team together, but who knows if it can happen. I'm not a cap expert," Kane said.