As Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman heads to Minneapolis for the NHL draft on Friday and Saturday, his work for next season's team heats up when he returns.
Bowman said Wednesday he would start dealing with the Hawks' restricted free agents next week, and that's when tough decisions will be made, if they haven't been made already.
"We've made some decisions on our own, but we are not going to be announcing them now," Bowman said. "We've got ideas. There are going to be changes. We're not bringing everyone back."
He's talking more than just Marty Turco and Tomas Kopecky, who are unrestricted free agents and have little chance at returning. Bowman said Alexander Salak was going to be given the chance to be Corey Crawford's back-up, saying he was the "best goaltender in Europe" last season, so that nearly officially closes the door on Turco. But that's not news or a surprise.
As for Kopecky, unless he wants to ignore his career season and forego a raise to stay, he will undoubtedly test the market as that is his best chance in his career to cash in.
Bowman indicated the Hawks would have room to add players, but he must have been talking about the Hawks' salary cap situation after shedding more salary. Despite the rise in the NHL cap to near $64 million, it still means the Hawks need to make some tough decisions. As is, they have approximately $54 million committed to 16 players. It leaves about $10 million for six players, assuming a 22-man roster. But in reality, it's considerably less than $10 million. The Hawks need to save some room for injuries and Bowman was quick to point out the extra cap room could come in handy later.
"The additional flexibility will help us not only in the summer but during the season as well," he said.
So it's probably closer to $7-$8 million the Hawks have to spend. Three restricted free agents, Michael Frolik, Chris Campoli and Troy Brouwer will take up a good bulk of that money -- if they all return. Combined, think $5 million-$5.5 million. Barring a trade, it doesn't leave much room for a high priced newcomer.
The bottom line is whether the salary cap was going to go up or not the Hawks were going to have to say goodbye to one of their millionaires, and one way or another signs still point to Brouwer as being the guy who could go.
Brouwer is set to make at least $2 million next season as he is eligible for arbitration, and his numbers dictate a nice raise from his $1 million salary of 2010-11. But with the emergence of Ben Smith and even Marcus Kruger, there may not be a place for Brouwer among the Hawks' top nine forwards.
Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Smith, Dave Bolland, Marian Hossa, Bryan Bickell, Frolik and Kruger figure to be in the mix as top nine guys to start the season. Brouwer fits there as well, but his salary may not. Line up general managers across the league and all would take Brouwer as a better talent and player than Bickell, but at $525,000, Bickell's 17 goals are a steal. Plus, Bickell and Frolik proved they could be third-line contributors come playoff time, so they've created more flexibility for themselves.
Brouwer isn't going to play the fourth line making over $2 million. Bickell could play there, but it still handcuffs the Hawks in terms of bringing in some edgier players -- who they need -- but might command a little more than the minimum. And it certainly puts a stranglehold on the Hawks' ability to acquire a big ticket center unless it's via a trade where a high priced player, say Niklas Hjalmarsson, is moved.
Unless the Hawks break up their core on defense, at least one of their restricted free agents, if not more, on offense, will be gone by opening night. Viktor Stalberg is another candidate to be moved which could save the Hawks a few dollars. Though he did his best in a fourth line role, it's not his strong suit and the Hawks need some size and grit to return to that line.
Campoli could also be moved since the Hawks are deeper at the blue line now than they were a year ago at this time, but the Hawks blueprint for success has always started with their defense. Keeping Brouwer over Campoli doesn't sound like a choice the Hawks would make.
Bowman promised changes. There is little doubt he'll follow through on that promise.