TAMPA, Fla. – Rocky Wirtz was all smiles prior to Game 1 on Wednesday night.
Why wouldn’t he be? The Blackhawks owner was about to watch his team participate in its third Stanley Cup Final in the past six seasons. Much like with the previous two, offseason salary-cap-related questions loom. Players will have to go. A rebuild of some sort will have to be done.
It’s something that concerns him, no?
“Well, if we’ve done our homework, no,” Wirtz said. “Stan and his folks have done the homework.”
General manager Stan Bowman has had to do some creative cap work the past few seasons, most notably and most devastatingly out of the 2010 Cup victory. He’ll have to do it again entering the 2015-16 season, when the salary cap is likely to hover around $71 million. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane’s contracts kick in and Brandon Saad is a priority to sign. Some players will have to go; others, who are entering free-agent status, won’t be re-signed. But Wirtz doesn’t doubt that Bowman will figure it out.
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“They have plenty of scenarios because we don’t know what the cap is going to be. It could be a $500,000 difference, up or down. It’s not like he’s going to wake up in the middle of June and say, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do?’ He’s been working this since training camp,” Wirtz said. “So I’m not worried because I have complete faith in the process they go to.”
Bowman talked Monday of how changes are always afoot. But a loss in one area has always meant a gain in the other.
“I think there’s a lot of ways to look at that. If you look at it from a positive, you’re going to have some new blood. You’re going to have some guys that weren’t part of this. This is a great experience for our players,” Bowman said. “For the guys that are new to our team in the future, they’re going to want to get to this point themselves. So you have that new blood in the system going forward.”
The Blackhawks have benefited from that new blood in past postseasons. Saad and Andrew Shaw, 2011 draftees, broke though during the 2013 regular season/Cup run. Teuvo Teravainen, whom the Blackhawks drafted in 2012, is having a memorable postseason right now, adding a goal and an assist in the team’s 2-1 victory over Tampa on Wednesday night.
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Bottom line: every team’s dealing with it but very few, like the Blackhawks, are finding enough solutions to get to conference and Cup finals often.
“It’s a challenge. The salary cap, it’s a system we all play under. We’ve been through it before. There are changes to be made to every team and we’re no different. We certainly have expectations that we want to keep this going,” Bowman said. “The main players are going to be back. You have to rely on some young guys to step into bigger roles.”
Some of Bowman’s moves have been laudable. Others have been questionable. Having the core this team has certainly helps but it’s also about finding the right pieces to surround it, either through free agency or drafting and developing.
Ultimately, the Blackhawks have had more hits than misses. They wouldn’t be at their third Stanley Cup Final in the past six seasons if that were the other way around.
“It’s a credit to the organization,” Wirtz said. “We’re quite proud of the job they’ve done and the nucleus of the team, that’s something we’re excited about.”