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Blackhawks Wed Jun 11 2014

Blackhawks Begin to Make Moves, Add Rasmussen

Thumbnail image for GB blackhawks icon.png As the Kings and Rangers wind down the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, the Blackhawks have been resting whatever injuries that came about during the long season and grueling postseason -- all while watching from the comfort of their respective homes. Surely, the watching part is more painful than any contusion or strain, especially considering how close the Hawks came from being in the Kings' current position up three games to none.

But, as Patrick Kane once said, "That's hockey, baby." Now that the gut punch of losing Game 7 has subsided, the Hawks' brass have begun looking to fill whatever holes exist on the current roster. With the draft coming in less than three weeks, Stan Bowman and company will work to clear some cap space all while adding around its current core.

The first move came Tuesday afternoon when the Hawks signed Swedish center Dennis Rasmussen to an entry-level contract for one year worth about $793,000. No, not the former Padres pitcher of the same name; although, the 55-year-old lefty might be faster than Michal Handzus on open ice.

This Dennis Rasmussen is the 23-year-old who played with the Vaxjo Lakers last season in the SHL, scored 40 points in 52 games (16 goals, 24 assists), which was ninth-best in the league, and holds a sturdy frame at 6'3" and 200 pounds.

According to EliteProspects.com, Rasmussen's size and speed helps in his ability to play at both ends. He's good along the boards and has good stickhandling abilities to get up and down the ice. He has a fast release and has been useful on the penalty kill -- a good role player for the team.

The need for a second-line center has hampered the Hawks for the most part of the regular season and, mostly, throughout the postseason. Yes, Handzus was serviceable, especially on the penalty kill, and he did score the game-winning goal in double overtime against the Kings in Game 5. But the Hawks need someone consistent and fast at that second line in order to keep up with Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad. Andrew Shaw proved to be that guy towards the end, but by then it was too late.

Looking ahead to cap space for next season, the Hawks currently sit with 19 members on the roster with four of them as unrestricted free agents (Handzus, Peter Regin, Nikolai Khabibulin -- remember him? -- and Sheldon Brookbank). Handzus already has said he doesn't want to retire, so it'll be interesting to see how the Hawks handle the situation, especially considering Joel Quenneville notoriously favors his veterans.

The restricted free agents on the Hawks' list include Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin and Antti Raanta, all three of which should return. According to CapGeek.com, the Hawks currently have about $4.6 million in cap space for 2014-'15. Sounds like a nice comfort zone for sure, but guess whose contracts are up at the end of next season as unrestricted free agents? You guessed it, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, both of which currently make $6.3 million per year.

Bowman already has said that the Hawks will do everything in their power to make sure Toews and Kane are Hawks for life. Both seem to want to stay in town, but surely will want some sort of raise, probably somewhere between $7 million and $8 million. That remains to be seen.

There's also the prospect of Saad, Joakim Nordstrom, Marcus Kruger, Nick Leddy and David Rundblad having their restricted contracts coming to an end the same time as Toews' and Kane's. Saad is still a steal at roughly $764,000 per year and Nordstrom at about $616,000. You can bet those two, especially Saad, will get their payday after next season if not sooner.

Even Kruger's $1.325 million seems like a good deal, but he probably won't get too much more than that. Nick Leddy and Michal Rozsival are at $2.7 million and $2.2 million, respectively, and likely wouldn't get resigned -- at least not both of them.

The real question, at least right now, is in regards to Johnny Oduya and his $3.375 million. Oduya is also up at the end of next season and is an unrestricted free agent. He had a somewhat subpar postseason, but still holds a lot of value, which could make him trade bait either before this year's draft or sometime after. Brent Seabrook carries a $5.8 million cap hit, but isn't up for another two seasons. And although Seabrook struggled throughout the regular season and late in the postseason, right-handed defensemen aren't available right now in the league, not to mention being part of the "core," he likely won't be moved.

Teuvo Teravainen waits in the wings for the upcoming season, and likely will get plenty of looks during the regular season. It'll be interesting to see where Quenneville lines him up, considering how young he is.

You know at some point, Teravainen will line up with Saad and Kane, which will be a lot of fun to watch. But until then, he'll need to play alongside someone like Marian Hossa, a great two-way player to help bail out the kid's potential mistakes. If he started alongside Kane and Saad, they'd likely score 150 goals each, but would give up 151.

Lastly, there's been the recent rumbling of the Hawks trading Patrick Sharp for the San Jose Sharks' Joe Thornton. Sharp, 32, did lead the Hawks with 34 goals this season, but with Saad's game raising to another level, it makes Sharp more expendable as trade bait for a solid second-line center in Thornton, who is 34.

Sharp will make $5.9 million until the end of the 2016-'17 season while Thornton just resigned this past year for $6.75 million that lasts just as long as Sharp's contract. Yes, you trade a very marketable player in Sharp, who possesses a bunch of talent, who is a few years younger and a little cheaper than Thornton, but the return is one that would pair the following lines come October:

Line 1: Bickell-Toews-Smith/Shaw
Line 2: Saad-Thornton-Kane
Line 3: Smith/Shaw-Teravainen-Hossa
Line 4: XXX-Rasmussen-XXX

Line four would be whoever remained after trades occurred during this offseason. It's a bit of a stretch, but fun to think over as something that could get the Hawks back to the Final.

It's likely the Kings will raise Lord Stanley by the time Father's Day comes this weekend, which absolutely is deserved for a team playing lights out. It was this time last year the Hawks were the team everyone was catching up to in terms of talent and resolve. Now it's the Hawks' turn to play the role of equalizer in being able to take back the crown.

There's still some work to do ahead this summer and it started with the addition of Rasmussen. It'll be interesting to see how it ends.

 

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