As the Blackhawks prepare to host the Nashville Predators Friday night, there’s an awkward silence coming from Chicago.
Yesterday, obviously, was one of the most important days in Blackhawks’ history, as the team announced contract extensions for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kand and Duncan Keith. The excitement leading up to that announcement, and the anticipation of the potential the future could bring with these three young stars locked up, was something the Hawks fans have been begging for since 1962.
But the other side of the excitement was the rumors that the Blackhawks had to make a deal to make the three contracts happen during the season. The “tagging” rule was an issue the Blackhawks allegedly had to deal with, and it was reportedly going to force GM Stan Bowman to move at least one, if not two players before the ink was dry.
Reports on Friday morning, however, are that Bowman and others from the Blackhawks’ front office met with NHL officials to review the Hawks salary obligations in 2009-10 and beyond, and received league clearance to finalize the three new contracts without being obligated to cut payroll.
That means the trade rumors swirling around Cam Barker, Patrick Sharp and, especially, Brent Sopel should die down for at least a little while.
However, just because the league was OK with the Hawks new deals happening new without a deal doesn’t mean the Hawks are in a financial position without issue moving forward. Adding the three new deals puts the Blackhawks’ salary cap number at $60.6 million heading to next year before addressing the pending free agencies of players like Niklas Hjalmarsson, Andrew Ladd, Antti Niemi, Colin Fraser, Ben Eager, John Madden and Adam Burish. Expectations are that the NHL will lower the salary cap for 2010-11 from the current $56.8 million.
Which means the Hawks will need to move salary just to put a complete roster on the ice next year, much less have any depth.
There’s no doubt that rumors will continue to swirl around a number of Blackhawks, including Barker, Sharp, Sopel, Dustin Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg, all of whom are signed through next season. Realistic expectations should be that two players from this list are not with the team next year because of salary constraints, and those players might still be moved during this season.
But what’s important now is that, if the Hawks opt to keep the current roster together through the playoffs, they can do so. The way these Hawks are playing, that’s a relief.