Patrick Kane has seen a lot of friends leave Chicago, teammates that have helped win Stanley Cups but who didn’t fit in future plans in this salary-cap world.
“It’s inevitable, right?” Kane said on Wednesday. “You’re never going to have the same team two years in a row. It’s part of the business, part of the game.”
The Blackhawks have been euphoric these last few days, thanks to winning the Cup, their third in the past six seasons, on Monday. Soon, that euphoria will fade when the inevitable starts happening: The cash-strapped Blackhawks will have to part with a few more players.
The salary cap for 2015-16 hasn’t been announced yet, but the number isn’t expected to be much more than the $69 million of this season. According to NHLNumbers.com, the Blackhawks have $64 million dedicated to 14 players. Someone has to go. Actually more than one probably has to go.
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Patrick Sharp could be one of those on the way out. Sharp, who has two years remaining on his current deal and a cap hit of $5.9 million, has been the subject of trade talk for some time now. When that talk came up again on Wednesday, Sharp wasn’t getting into it much.
“I haven’t really put much thought into it,” Sharp said. “It’s been a whirlwind couple of days. To win a third Stanley Cup in this city is something that I’ll always remember. It’s pretty special. It’s a huge accomplishment. These last couple days have been crazy. I’m sure the next few days when things wind down a little bit, that’ll be more of a topic of conversation.”
Bryan Bickell has been hearing that chatter, too. Bickell’s 2015 Cup season was nothing like his 2013 one. This time around he struggled, and down the stretch his health became an issue. Bickell was out of the lineup with vertigo early in the Stanley Cup Final, and he said on Wednesday that it’s still bothering him. Now there’s the possibility of he and his contract, which still has two years and a $4 million-cap-hit-a-year remaining, being on the way out.
“I consider Chicago my second home, being here, drafted and working my way up through the system and have the ultimate goal and be successful like we have been,” Bickell said. “But it’s part of the business. A lot of friends have moved. It’s out of my control, it happens. I want to stay; it’s a good spot to be in.”
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General manager Stan Bowman is no stranger to this salary-cap carousel. Despite all the changes, especially all the movement that came following the 2010 Cup victory, he’s been able to keep the core of seven or eight long-time players together. That core could get altered this time.
“We want to have some stability. That’s been the hallmark of our success the last couple of years: stability in coaching and management staff, as well as (having) a lot of our key players back. Ideally that’s how you work it,” Bowman said. “But there are things we have to work out and some variables we haven’t locked down yet, so it’s too early to tell.”
The Blackhawks are already eyeing the future. Trevor van Riemsdyk will come into training camp healthy. Michael Paliotta could get an opportunity on defense, as should Stephen Johns. Russian forward Artemi Panarin has coach Joel Quenneville anticipating good things.
“Certainly, it’s the nature of our game,” Quenneville said of roster changes. “Change is all part of it. We’ll miss some pieces or lose some pieces, but there’s some excitement down the road as well.”
The Blackhawks have some decisions to make. The cuts are going to come. Friends are going to go. The Blackhawks have set themselves apart with their Stanley Cup success these past few seasons, despite all the changes. That still doesn’t make parting any easier.
“It’s always sad to see faces leaving the team,” Kane said. “Hopefully there’s not too much damage over this summer.”