Even if you follow the Blackhawks for the rest of your life, you may not see a deeper, more talented group than the 2010 Stanley Cup champions. Everyone knew this was THE YEAR to win, because the team's salary-cap issues were always in the back of your mind.
A few of the players off this championship team are going to be moving on for no other reason than money. We've got a little over three months until the next hockey game, so let's begin the speculation on what might happen over the offseason.
The following players have contracts for next year and will, IMO, remain with the Hawks: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp, Troy Brouwer, Tomas Kopecky.
There has been some speculation that Sharp will be traded, but I just can't see that happening. The Hawks have wisely identified Toews, Kane and Keith as "core players" and locked them up for the long-term. Personally, I see Sharp as being nearly as important as any of those three. We're talking about a forward who plays at the same high level every night, whether it's a Tuesday night in October or Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals in June.
Sharp can play center or wing. He kills penalties. He plays on the power play. He's good in all three zones. He's a veteran leader who knows how to play. Somebody has to be traded, but it should not be Patrick Sharp.
The following players are under contract, but are candidates to be traded: Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, Brian Campbell, Brent Sopel.
The Hawks could free up a lot of cap space if they could unload Campbell and his $7 million contract. It's a tricky situation because the Hawks struggled while Campbell was out with a broken collarbone this season. After the puck-moving veteran defenseman returned for Game 4 of the Nashville series, the Hawks went 15-4 in their final 19 postseason games. Campbell was a plus-11 in the playoffs. There's no denying Campbell is still a useful player. He's just not worth his salary.
Versteeg was in my doghouse for most of the season, but he elevated his play in the playoffs. He accepted a role on the checking line and chipped in some big goals -- most notably the game-winner late in Game 2 of the Vancouver series. Nevertheless, his puck-hogging and the silly turnovers he makes at times lead me to believe he's the most expendable commodity on this list.
The Hawks caught a huge break in that Sopel played his best hockey in the playoffs. The veteran is probably near the end of the line, but his value is high at the moment. Might be a prime time to unload him and his $2 million salary.
The following players are restricted free agents: Antti Niemi, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd, Jordan Hendry, Colin Fraser, Bryan Bickell.
Niemi and Hjalmarsson deserve new contracts and raises. Get it done, Stan Bowman. Eager is already making $1 million. He isn't worth any more than that. If he wants more, it's time to say goodbye, especially with his history of concussions. Hendry, Fraser and Bickell will all come dirt cheap and figure to return.
Ladd (pictured), however, is the most interesting case. I'm a big fan of the veteran winger. Here's another guy who plays well in all three zones and plays the same way each and every night. Unfortunately, he's damaged goods at this point. Ladd played the final three games of the Stanley Cup finals with a fractured shoulder and torn ligaments. Right now, the plan is to rehabilitate for a month, then re-evaluate. What if Ladd ends up needing surgery? Then what do you do if you're the Hawks? I'm sure the team would love to retain him, but if he's hurt, can they afford it?
The following players are unrestricted free agents: John Madden, Adam Burish, Nick Boynton, Kim Johnsson.
Is Johnsson still alive? He was seemingly the only member of the Hawks' organization that was NOT introduced at the victory parade. That's a sure sign he's gone. Boynton will be moving on also, and the guess here is Madden will be too expensive to retain. Burish, who was limited by injuries all season, probably won't find much of a market for his services and could return cheaply as a fourth-line forward.
Under contract, but certain to be gone: Cristobal Huet.
Rest assured, the Hawks aren't going to pay $5 million to a backup goaltender. I look for the team to have a public stance and a private stance on Mr. Huet. The public stance is, "This guy went 26-14-4 during the regular season. Sure, he didn't play in the playoffs, but he has good numbers. Who wouldn't want him?" That's the song and dance they'll use to try to trade Huet. Privately, Hawks management will say, "If we can't trade this clown, let's stash his ass in Rockford so we don't have to take cap hit."
One way or another, I can't see Huet being on the roster next year.