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Wednesday, April 24

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Blackhawks Fri Sep 19 2008

On cusp of camp, Blackhawks maneuver under cap

With today's media day and tomorrow's fan festival marking the beginning of training camp, a summer of awakening excitement and soaring expectations shifts to results on the ice.

One detail that remained to be resolved this week was the Hawks salary cap situation, as free agent signings Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet had pushed the team past the $56.7 million ceiling. GM Dale Tallon ended up trading center Robert Lang to Montreal for a 2010 second-round draft pick. Moving Lang's $4 million salary leaves the Hawks with $1.5 million in cap room, though the final number will be lower as the Hawks fill out their final roster.

The departing Lang leaves the Hawks with a large hole in the 2nd line center spot, which the team is counting on one of their young prospects like Dave Bolland or Petri Kontiola to step into. If neither player lays claim to the position in camp or gets injured, the Hawks may be forced to look outside for help, making the Lang deal a calculated risk. However, long-term the trade was necessary since Lang was in the final year of his contract and on the tail end of his career, despite his 54 points last year.

Another area all eyes will be focused on is between the pipes. Both Huet and the returning Nikolai Khabibulin are capable of being a decent number 1 goalie, but with $12 million tied up in the duo, the Hawks are paying a premium for their tandem of tenders. Tallon has stated his plans are to keep both and play the hot hand night to night, but with Khabibulin in the final year of his $6.75 million contract, many expected him to be the solution to the cap problem. While the team is committed to the pair at the onset of training camp, the potential distraction may result in Khabibulin's eventual departure, especially if Huet forces the issue with stronger play.

Other areas under scrutiny will be which prospects emerge to fill out the rest of the forward lines, and the third defensive pairing. Following the weekend's festival, the team opens their preseason Tuesday at the United Center against the Columbus Bluejackets, where some of these questions will begin to be answered.

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