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Trade rumors swirl as Blackhawks end successful circus trip

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- The Hawks conclude their annual November road trip with a visit to the Staples Center to take on the Los Angeles Kings. Joel Quenneville has elected to start Cristobal Huet in net to finish the trip. Huet was on the losing end of a 3-0 game Friday against the Anaheim Ducks though he played well, especially early in the game.

With a win the Hawks will match their best six game “circus trip” record, achieved in 1990. They’re 4-1 so far with stops in Western Canada and Southern California. The Kings have lost three of four and dropped a 4-1 decision to the Hawks at the United Center Nov. 9. It was the first win of an eight-game winning streak for the Hawks, which was snapped on Friday.

The Hawks will fly home on Sunday morning and that’s when trade talks could heat up. It’s doubtful the team will stick the contract extensions of Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews in a “drawer” until the season concludes. Doing that would only delay and probably complicate the problem the Hawks face with their salary cap.

The issue at hand now is trying to clear some space without taking away from what could be a championship team. One simple solution, if it could be accomplished, would be to trade a decent player making decent money (think $3 million or more) who is under contract past this season for another team’s good player whose contract is up after this year.

For example, if the Hawks could trade their Kris Versteeg for a player of Versteeg’s caliber who has a contract that is ending, problem solved. That is easier said than done.

The other scenario involves a lesser player like Brent Sopel. His name has appeared in rumors lately. Would someone, possibly Toronto, take Sopel and a draft pick and give back a defenseman with an expiring contract? It’s possible, but that defenseman had better be able to kill penalties and do at least what Sopel can. The Hawks are thin there as is.

Toronto has several defensemen whose contracts are up, but I’m not convinced they would take Sopel and his $2 million-plus contract for next season.

Sources say the Maple Leafs covet Patrick Sharp, but I don’t think he’s going anywhere.

A good-player-for-good-player trade is still the best option. Other teams know the Hawks’ position, so an extra draft pick may be going their way even if the players are equal.

At first, waiting to sign the Big Three seemed like a good idea. Worry about next year, next year. But the reality is if it’s done right, you can start to fix next year and keep things alive for this one at the same time. The injury progress of both Dave Bolland and Adam Burish would figure into the equation as well. No one knows exactly if and when they are due to return.

If Stan Bowman can pull this all off, he gets my vote for rookie general manager of the Year. If he can’t, he can always blame the guy before him.