CHICAGO (MCT) — If the sudden end of the Blackhawks’ season hadn’t hit home yet for the team and its fans, it surely did Tuesday afternoon when the ice was removed from the floor of the United Center.
The reality is the offseason has begun after the Hawks’ unceremonious departure at the hands of the Coyotes in six games of their first-round postseason series.
With the sting of the early exit still smarting the Hawks, thoughts turn toward next season and the changes that will occur to an organization that has failed to make it out of the first round two consecutive seasons. Will it be a major overhaul or more of a tweaking to a team that is seeing its 2010 Stanley Cup championship drift further away?
“I like this group a lot,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “You always tell yourself (that) every guy in this room has to believe — from the guy who plays 30 minutes a night to the guys who are scratches or waiting for their chances to play — that you ... have that group you need to win. We believed in each other, we believed in this group. It was a special team.”
It was a team that led the NHL in points before a mid-January swoon — low-lighted by a nine-game losing streak — dropped them into the middle of the pack in the Western Conference before a late-season surge netted them 101 total points on the season. That was four points better than in 2010-11 as the Hawks tried to overcome an abbreviated offseason following the run to the Cup and the departure of 10 players in a salary-cap-related demolition.
“I thought our team was pretty solid,” goaltender Corey Crawford said. “The core of this team is very solid and we’ll be good for many years to come.”
The next step is trying to restructure a team capable of making a deep run in the postseason.
The core remains and general manager Stan Bowman figures to have some room under the cap — though that is in flux as formal negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement (the current deal expires Sept. 15) have not begun between the league and the players’ association. If the cap remains near or at its current $64.3 million, Bowman should have around $7 million of wiggle room.
With that in mind, here’s an early look at who could be staying and who could be going:
Forwards: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik, Marcus Kruger, Viktor Stalberg, Jimmy Hayes, Daniel Carcillo, Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad.
Defensemen: Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Nick Leddy, Dylan Olsen.
Goaltenders: Corey Crawford, Ray Emery.
The core — consisting of Kane, Toews, Hossa, Sharp, Bolland, Seabrook and Keith — is not likely to be broken up. Kruger, Hayes, Shaw, Saad and Olsen were rookies and have bright futures — though the minors are an option for some — after gaining valuable experience down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs.
Frolik likely will get a chance to rebound from a poor season that began to turn around with a fine series against the Coyotes. Stalberg had a career season and along with Carcillo (if he rebounds from a serious knee injury), Hjalmarsson and Leddy should be solid.
Crawford and Emery are locked in for next season contract-wise and are capable if the team in front of them proves to be stronger.
Andrew Brunette, Brendan Morrison, Jamal Mayers, Sean O’Donnell, Sami Lepisto.
All five veterans are unrestricted free agents and Bowman figures to look elsewhere to fill in the supporting cast.
Mayers seemed to have a chance at a new deal after a solid season but was a healthy scratch during the final three games of the playoffs and appears to have fallen out of favor. When the Hawks signed Carcillo to a two-year extension in March, they didn’t do the same for Mayers despite solid contributions on the fourth line and leadership on and off the ice.
Brandon Bollig, Bryan Bickell, Steve Montador, Johnny Oduya.
It would take some finagling from Bowman to move Montador, who is signed through the 2014-15 season with a cap hit of $2.75 million and holds a no-trade clause. Still, Bowman has displayed the willingness to be creative and could look to move the veteran blueliner who missed the final 22 games of the regular season and all of the postseason with what is believed to be a concussion.
Oduya provided a spark when acquired from the Jets at the trade deadline, but coming off a season during which he was paid $3.5 million and may want a raise, his price could be too high.
Bickell has an affordable contract with a cap hit of $542,000 and has some value because of his size and experience, but the Hawks need help up front and Bickell could be bait.
Bollig is a restricted free agent and did well in his stint as the team’s enforcer after John Scott was traded to the Rangers, but a more experienced and proven player could bump him.
General manager Stan Bowman, coach Joel Quenneville.
Chairman Rocky Wirtz and President John McDonough can’t be happy with back-to-back early playoff exits, but they likely will give Bowman and Quenneville another chance to right the ship.
Assistant coach Mike Haviland, assistant coach Mike Kitchen, goaltenders coach Stephane Waite.
Haviland is on the bubble because he is expected to be a top candidate for any head coaching openings around the league. The Hawks have been fortunate Haviland hasn’t been snapped up yet.
But someone could take the fall for the recent failure and with the Hawks’ power play a problem all season long, the proprietor of the unit — Kitchen — is a possibility. The uneven goaltending during 2011-12 exposes Waite to change, though the hard-working coach may get the opportunity to further help develop Crawford.