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Off-season Will Make (or Break) Dynasty; Big Buff Gone

Obviously the initial thing to do after any championship is to celebrate.  As we have read over and over, that is what the players did.  From hearing about Sharp surviving on merely hours of sleep to Kane taking sip after sip of beer out of the Cup.  Unlike a marriage, the honeymoon period in sports is much, much shorter.

As Stan Bowman told ChicagoBlackhawks.com website, "There’s not one way to approach it. We’ve been preparing for this for a long time. It’s not something that caught us off-guard. We’d love to have everybody back, but that’s just not a possibility. So, we’ve got to move on."

In the most simple of ways to put it, the profession of being a hockey player is merely business.  What they do on ice is similar to what one does ringing up a customer in line at a grocery store.  You are hired to perform your role to the best of your ability.  You are paid on past accomplishments and demoted from recent failures.  That is exactly what the Blackhawks front office will do over the next few weeks leading up to the NHL draft on June 25th in Los Angeles, CA.

With headlines of names being thrown around like a day on the Wall Street trading floor, there are certainties amongst the questions.  The foundation of the Blackhawks consists of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Marian Hossa.  With brief headlines flooding the Hawk-blogosphere in reference to an early departure of Hossa, signs point to any direction but that.  In all certainty, this foundation was signed for the sole reason of being the foundation and they will all be back next season.

At this point the flood gates open.  Currently the Hawks have $57.6 million committed to 14 players for the 2010-11 season.  The following is how the salary cap is distributed:

On May 28th, Gary Bettman made his State of the League address and what it entailed was a $2 million dollar raise of the salary cap.  This would increase the cap from $56.8 million to $58.8 million.  This would ideally leave the Blackhawks with $1.2 million for roughly 5 or 6 more players.

So here is the dirty work…

There are 11 players currently due for free agency.  Four are UFAs while seven are RFAs.  For those needing clarification, the Hawks can make an offer to all players and issue an extension before the free agency period opens.  The difference between the two is that the Hawks front office will have the opportunity to match any offer made to a restricted free agent (RFA).  Here is the breakdown:

So it begins… eliminate the most obvious; the Hawks have their starting centers under contract already, with the exception of Burish.  There is no doubt that Madden will see the door, especially seeing as he will request too much for a) his age and b) the Hawks spending limits.  Johnsson and Boynton will see the door as well.

After starting with that, the Hawks will most likely let Ladd and Faser go.  Why Ladd?  For starters we can start with the fact that he will demand more for less, and that will not cut it when we have great players waiting to reach the top level.

That leads to the next decision.  Kyle Beach and Jack Skille will make the roster next season.  Along with that being said, Bickell will also make the team.  Skille and Bickell did have minimal experience, but due to certain role players on the team their opportunities lacked.  This will in turn help for negotiations and keep both contracts reasonably affordable.  This works for Burish also, the vocal leader of the Hawks.  After being injured for all but 13 games of the regular season, he appeared on a more "hit and miss" basis in the playoffs.

As you have noticed the trend is who would they bring back?  Well who gets moved to make room to allow for the signings?  The answer… Byfuglien, Sopel, and Huet.  Not only do these contracts amount in more than $10 million in salary, but all are replaceable.  Yes, even Big Buff.

While running a playoff freight train over the likes of Vancouver and San Jose, Buff did not have impressive numbers during regular season.  He provided 17 goals and 17 assists.  Hardly the production you want to see for a player getting paid $3 million.  The ability he brings by being able to contribute on defense helps as well, but it just adds trade value.  After the playoff he did have, his stock will never be higher.  Trading him will demand draft picks in return, and that is all the Hawks could ask for right now.

The same story can be made for Sopel.  Playing in 73 games, primarily on the third line pairing, he provided 1 goal and 7 assists.  Looking at a paycheck of $2.333 million, you would expect more.  Though he did have a decent playoff run, his value is at its apex.  Unfortunately the possibility of trading him is low when the free agency pool is filled with quality defenseman.  So what happens?  Hawks place him on waivers and a team picks him up.  Likely?  Yes.  On the flip side, trading him away could happen in a deal where the Hawks give more than they receive.

Huet is the story of the off-season.  What will happen to the goalie that was supposed to lead the Hawks to the Cup that has been paraded for almost the past week now?  There are ideally 3 scenarios, but only two are logical.  On the out, Huet staying a Blackhawk.  Obviously the most unknowledgeable of bandwagon fans knows to cut ties with a player eating huge salary space for zero production.  So it leaves shipping him to Rockford and finish out the contract in the AHL or cutting him loose and taking the $1.8 million hit on the salary cap.

Ideally it would make the most sense sending him to Rockford if the Hawks have the extra green to pay that to an AHL goalie.  With the fact of being a Stanley Cup Champion, it is not hard to imagine the extra cash laying around for a pricey expense like that.  On the other end, they can cut Huet and take a hit on the salary cap for the next two years.  If feasible once everything is ironed out come training camp, then cut him if the cushion is there.  Otherwise, own the fact it was a bad signing and pay him the money he didn’t earn.

This leads to the first clear-cut starting goalie in many years.  Antti Niemi will receive a contract extension.  For how much, it is unknown.  For how long, the assumption would be in the idea of 2 to 3 years.  After making a costly error with Huet, it won’t be made again.  While Niemi displayed outstanding playoff performances, he started in less than half the games.  That and the love Niemi has for Chicago will prove to be great bargaining tools when talking salary.

This leads to ideal line-ups for the 2010-11 Season:

This line-up does two things for the Hawks.  Besides salaries being at about $57 million, it ideally removes only one piece to a very complex puzzle.  Keeping the core of the team together and bringing up the developing talent in waiting, will prove success.  The ideology of a "Dynasty" is very attainable.  As always it takes team work.  The Hawks will come in confident, ideally the same line-up, and will have a starting goalie.  The stressors at the start of the ‘09-10 Season will be non-existent.  As the Hawks have always played best with a lead, they will play even better with a Stanley Cup banner in the rafters.  The hype… the anthem… and the fans will make it happen for the young Hawks.


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