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Blackhawks Wed Jul 02 2008

Hawks Go Big

The first day of free agency signing has been a dismal one for the Blackhawks in years past, as marquee players would pass up Chicago for stronger teams, leaving the Hawks to overpay for less talented alternatives (paging Adrian Aucoin).

However, yesterday's signing day made a strong statement that the Blackhawks are back, as the team inked two-time All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell, who was the top blueliner available. The Hawks also inked goalie Cristobal Huet, one of the top netminders on the market.

The 29-year-old Campbell is a quick-skating D-man who fills one of the Hawks' biggest needs, a quarterback for the powerplay. Huet is an upgrade over former backup goalie Patrick Lalime and lead Washington to a playoff berth last season while posting a 32-14-6 record and a 2.32 goals-against-average.

The contracts given to Campbell and Huet were shocking, but GM Dale Tallon took no chances in locking up the players he coveted.

"We had to make statement with the buzz we have created in Chicago,” Tallon said. “Our franchise decided that we would try and make an impact today to try and continue that momentum. When you do that, you will overpay.”

Campbell signed an eight-year deal that will pay him $7 million annually, a huge investment for the Hawks, and Huet's four-year deal nets him $5.6 million per season. The signings put the Hawks roughly $3 million over the salary cap, so the Hawks expect a few cost cutting deals, like the trade that sent Rene Bourque to Calgary in exchange for a draft pick. Although Tallon has stated he thinks the tandem of Huet and Nicolai Khabibulin is one of the best in the league, with both earning starter's money, Habby may be trade material to get under the cap as well.

While the cost of the signings is high, Campbell and Huet will pay immediate dividends as the Hawks look to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. The Hawks young defensive corp just earned a franchise veteran to mentor them, and Campbell's power-play skills will upgrade a special teams unit that finished 24th a year ago. Huet has posted some strong numbers since coming to the league in 2002, and his signing gives the Hawks some long-term insurance in net, as Khabibulin is in the final year of his contract.

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