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Salary cap imposes tough decisions on Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Duncan Keith was the playoff MVP. Now it’s Stan Bowman’s turn to be the most valuable member of the Chicago Blackhawks' organization.

The offseason starts now, and he’s got a lot of work to do.

"We’ll enjoy this for a bit first. I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a long time, it’s not like it’s going to surprise me," the Hawks general manager said Monday night amidst a full celebration on the United Center ice. "We’ll make it work. We’ve got a plan in place."

Well, it’s not like he hasn’t been through it before. The 2010 Stanley Cup win was followed by cap carnage as Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg and Antti Niemi were shed in order to get the payroll under the league-imposed limit.

This time, the salary cap is barely going up next season while extensions for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, at $10.5 million a season for each player, kick in; not to mention the small matter of re-signing pending restricted free agent Brandon Saad. So the Hawks will need to be creative once again.

"Yeah, it’s a challenge," Bowman said of the salary-cap world in which he’s still navigated three Stanley Cup winners. "It’s a system we all play under. You got to find a way to make it work. It’s a credit to the leadership group on the team and also my staff has done a fantastic job drafting and developing players. The only way you make it work in this system is if you not only draft but you develop; or you find them as free agents and you develop them. We’ve got a lot of people that have put in countless hours. They can certainly make you look good. This is by no means all my doing. I have to credit them."

Standing a few feet away, his father and Hawks consultant Scotty Bowman, the most successful coach in NHL history, commented on the difficult job his son and the front office have in keeping a good roster together year in and year out.

"I think with all the juggling around, losing good players, trying to hold on to your best guys, it’s not easy," said the legendary coach. "Now he’s going to have another tough two weeks. This is the toughest part."

All of which has led to rumblings that perhaps there’s a team or two thinking of slapping an offer sheet on Saad. Go ahead, but the Hawks are definitely matching. Saad isn’t going anywhere.

"I just talked to him right after we won, gave him a hug, and I said: '... We’re going to win many together,'" Stan Bowman said of Saad. "He gave me a big hug and said, 'Let’s go!' No, he’s going to be here. I don’t think he would want to leave after this scene here."

Saad echoed Bowman’s comment.

"Oh yeah. Unbelievable city. Unbelievable team to be a part of," Saad said. "Obviously the championships, that's what you play for. Stan has treated me well along the way. Yeah, I'm looking forward to getting something done this summer."

The bottom line? Saad is happy here.

"Oh definitely, to be put here in a situation where you’re around winners, I love competing, love playing the game, it’s made me the player I am today and I’m looking forward to keep learning," he said.

Added Saad: "I’m looking forward to many more to come."

So who will it be that’s gone? Patrick Sharp? Bryan Bickell? Others?

Sharp, who was here in the dark days before all the fun and winning started, acknowledged that it was emotional to look around the ice as his teammates celebrated and ponder just who returns and who doesn’t -- including himself.

"Yeah it is [emotional], you never know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what’s going to happen, either," he said. "Just going to enjoy this for a few days and we’ll go from there."

There’s much to enjoy. The Blackhawks are a cap-era dynasty, staying near the top for six years despite all the roster and cap gymnastics.

Dynasty. That’s a word you don’t throw around lightly.

"Kind of thought I'd get asked that question," Stan Bowman said with a smile. "I don't think that's really for me to say. That's really for other people to make those proclamations. All I know is that we've got an amazing group here, they've accomplished a lot together, and I'm really proud of the effort they've given year after year. It doesn't always go your way, but they've accomplished quite a bit and we're not finished."

Certainly, Bowman’s work is far from finished. It’s just beginning.