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Blackhawks Tue Oct 07 2008

Cap concerns affect Hawks roster cuts

As the Blackhawks prepare to open one of their most highly-anticipated seasons in history Friday against the Rangers, the team set their final roster this afternoon.

The cuts saw one player surprisingly still on the active roster, and one highly-regarded player beginning his year in the AHL. With no takers wanting to pay goalie Nicolai Khabibulin's $6.75 million salary, the Hawks kept Habby on the roster a week after putting him on waivers, instead sending Finnish rookie Antti Niemi down to Rockford.

With Khabibulin still on the roster, the Hawks found themselves hitting the ceiling on the $56.7 million salary cap, and 2004 first-round pick Cam Barker was a casualty, finding himself on the way to Rockford as well. The team also sent defenseman Aaron Johnson to the Icehogs and released forward Kevyn Adams to reach the 23-player roster limit.

Prospects making the team include forwards Jack Skille, Kris Versteeg, Dave Bolland and the surprising Colin Fraser, along with defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jordan Hendry.

While the forwards earned their spots with strong showings in the preseason, the moves behind the blueline are questionable if talent won out over financial issues.

After last week's news that Khabibulin had been waived by the Hawks, most fans expected to never see him in an Indianhead sweater again. However, with no teams interested and a possible loan deal to return to his native Russia falling through, the Blackhawks found themselves in a bind. As a result, Khabibulin was back on the ice for practice today, and Niemi, who had the strongest camp of any of the netminders, was on his way to Rockford instead.

It's still possible a trade may be struck soon, but the team is preparing to enter the season with Huet and Khabibulin platooning in goal. "We want the two best goalies we can possibly have to win every night. That's it," GM Dale Tallon said in a statement today, echoing the sentiment stated when he signed Huet in July. That was before the emergence of Niemi this preseason, who turned in two strong victories. On the flipside, Khabibulin saw no game action as the Hawks shopped him for a deal.

With Khabibulin still onboard, the team's ensuing cuts had to focus on the bottom line as well as the talent level, and Barker was a surprising case of cap attrition. Barker joined the team for the final 45 games last season, and while the youngster struggled at times, he posted 18 points and was being discussed as a big part of the team's plans as recently as two weeks ago, when Savard discussed pairing Barker with the highly-touted free agent Brian Campbell.

"Barks was a high pick for us, and we have high expectations for him," Denis Savard said after the team's first preseason game. "Having Campbell as a partner, to me, fits very well right now. I'm not saying it's going to be like this for the whole year, but I'd like to predict that would be a good solid pair for us."

Barker had a solid, if unspectacular preseason, but certainly played no worse than Hendry or Hjalmarsson. However, with the two other prospects costing a fraction of Barker's $2.5 million this year, something had to give to get under the cap.

Make no mistake, the Blackhawks aren't going to win or lose games solely because of Barker or the other final cuts, but if the goal is to put the best possible team on the ice, Tallon's mismanagement of the salary cap has prevented that from happening.

 

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