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Blackhawks may not be able to stand pat this summer

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup but a general manager’s aim is to put his team in position for a championship. The Chicago Blackhawks made it to the Western Conference Final and were one overtime goal away from a return appearance to capture Lord Stanley. After winning the Cup the previous season to come within an eyelash of getting to the Final should be considered a fine campaign.

It's been about a week since the Hawks were eliminated and my belief is Los Angeles was the better team. As it stands today they have beaten the Rangers twice and appear poised to win their second Cup since 2012.

The Kings are the real deal and although the Hawks were not playing at their best level they came close to advancing. But there aren't any prizes for coming close.

The Kings don’t have an old team, they should continue to be a worthy foe and the same can be said for the Blues and Wild. The Western Conference in total doesn’t have many soft touches and the Central Division is full of strong teams. That in itself is probably enough for GM Stan Bowman to take a long look and conclude he may have to add to his group and to do so trade away a familiar face or two.

Possibly Bowman does really believe his team only needs a minor tweak or two, and he will be somewhat content. Or after further reflection he feels the Hawks could have easily lost to either the Blues or Wild. In that case his final press conference of the season may have had a different tone.

In his final press conference after the Hawks were eliminated Bowman indicated there would not be any major changes. It will be interesting to see if he feels the same way as the NHL Entry Draft approaches on June 27 in Philadelphia. The Draft has become the place where significant trades are done, more so than during the season at the trade deadline. With salary cap constraints GM’s have more time to get their numbers to work in late June and there are more available trade partners. My guess is Bowman could make a more significant deal around the Draft.

In recent years many teams wanted to emulate the puck possession and quick transition model that has become synonymous with the Blackhawks. The Hawks combined elite skill up front, with a very good passing defense and top notch third and fourth lines to win two recent Stanley Cups. This time around the team wasn’t as complete and was basically one line short.

Beyond having more than one line that can score recent Cup winners have been able to mount a fierce forecheck. They have been able to play a heavier game, one where a couple of lines can take the body and win board battles. Both teams competing for Lord Stanley this year have a group of players that can bang and check. Maybe Bowman looks to find more of those type of players.

Although Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw and Ben Smith play bigger than their size they are considered smaller players. Bryan Bickell has size but had an inconsistent season. Another bigger body, Brandon Bollig, didn’t shine in the playoffs and was a different player when Smith and Kruger were not on his line. The pipeline of forwards in the system, Jeremy Morin, Joakim Nordstrom and others would not be considered big bodies.

For years many cited being smaller up front as being a sore spot for the Blackhawks. With the Kings apparently being the model for Cup success maybe as the Draft grows closer Bowman will explore options and look to add size. Possibly he may finally relent and look to acquire a bigger center that could play with Patrick Kane.

Another point of concern is if Joel Quenneville will bend and allow younger players more time to learn during the regular season. When push comes to shove Quenneville goes to his core group and his patience with some younger players seems to wear thin quickly. Maybe the Hawks would have had a better chance in the playoffs if Nordstrom and Morin would have had more NHL on the job training during the regular season?

Another issue is the need for a bigger, second line center who has the skill set to compliment Kane. Maybe Bowman believes that player is Shaw, or the highly touted youngster Teuvo Teravainen but neither are big bodies. Plus, Teravainen may be a year away from being an effective NHL player, he may need time in Rockford. Shaw is more versatile and could be better suited as a third line winger.

The line to acquire a big body center with hands is a very long one. There aren’t many players who fit that profile. If Bowman isn't counting on Shaw or Teravainen and Michal Handzus will likely not be back, there could be a more pressing need now.

So who could Bowman consider acquiring as a second line pivot?

A name that has been floated around is the Canucks Ryan Kesler. The chances new Vancouver GM Jim Benning would trade Kesler to a Western Conference team are slim. The likelihood is more remote if the club from the West is the Blackhawks. The name associated with a Kesler trade has been Brent Seabrook. In my view Bowman will not consider trading Seabrook.

Bowman will likely have to look to the Eastern Conference to find a trade partner. There is a big body center with great hands that might be available for the right price, Jason Spezza.

Ottawa could look to deal Spezza if they believe he won’t resign there after his contract is up next season. For Bowman to entertain the thought cap space would have to be cleared. Spezza is a $7 million salary cap hit and that could require the Hawks to deal more than one familiar face.

The other concern for Bowman is getting his finances in order to resign Jonathan Toews and Kane to long extensions. Those contracts could be in the $8.5-$9 million range per season. The salary cap will be going up for next season and may continue to do so, but it won’t be too long before others will need a significant raise as well. Some believe Bowman could set himself this summer and get his books in order for the next couple of years.

Acquiring someone like Spezza would mean Patrick Sharp and or Johnny Oduya would have to be dealt. If not Oduya, Nick Leddy could be playing elsewhere sooner than later.

Leddy is a restricted free agent and Oduya an unrestricted free agent after next season. It seems unlikely both could be in Bowman’s long range plans. Leddy may have taken a step back this past year. Having him play down on the third pairing may not fit his skill set. Oduya is having the best span of his career and could be looking for one more big contract.

The popular Sharp coming off a 34 goal, 78-point campaign may be a more a difficult decision for Bowman. Then again Sharp is on the wrong side of 30 and Father Time never seems to lose. Bowman could be thinking now is the time to deal Sharp as it could be a sell high situation.

Sharp and Oduya have no-trade clauses and that won’t make it easier to deal them. There are ways to convince a player to go and they often relent even though no-trade or no-movement clauses are in place. That was the case a few years ago with Brian Campbell, who loved Chicago and his wife was from around here. Campbell saw the writing on the wall and with a push, settled on another place he wanted to play.

The chatter around the NHL that has been prevalent indicates there could be a few big names with new addresses in the fall. Word is San Jose is looking to retool and also Winnipeg. The same could be said for Washington, Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Boston and others.

A young player who could be in play is Evander Kane. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is very familiar with Sharp, Leddy and other Chicago prospects.

Interestingly Sharp is from Winnipeg, but it would take more than him to pry Kane away from the Jets. Instead of looking for a center maybe Bowman will want a young power forward with size and hands. If so Kane is an interesting option.

The price would be steep but the Hawks have some young players coming and could look to open up a few more roster spots. Kane’s cap hit is $700,000 less than Sharp and he is signed through 2017-2018. Sharp’s contract runs through 2016-2017 and he is a $5.9 million cap hit.

Evander Kane has had some of the same off-ice issues Patrick Kane had earlier in his career and that may lessen his trade value some. Kane does have size, great hands and can fly, he could be better off with a change of scenery. In addition to the physical attributes Kane is only 22-years-old.

If Cheveldayoff is willing to listen a package including Sharp, Leddy and Teravainen may be tempting. If Bowman opts for a one year fix and more of a rent-a-player like Spezza, some of those same names would likely be part of that deal as well. The difference being, Spezza’s replacement could be Teravainen and his cap hit will be much less for the following season.

Either way, if Bowman looks to make a bigger splash or wants to add a couple of experienced role players he will be looking to have salary cap flexibility moving forward. It is almost a certainty Kane and Toews will be inked to long term mega contracts soon and to free up cap space for the coming years a couple of familiar faces may have to go.

It could be an interesting time for Bowman this summer as well as Blackhawk fans. It remains to be seen if Quenneville will change enough to allow younger players to have a more significant role during the season.

Either way the Hawks front office realizes the competition will be fierce and continued playoff success is not guaranteed.

This summer you can follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia.

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