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Blackhawks Mon Sep 22 2014

Blackhawks Hit Camp While Cap Adjustments Loom

Thumbnail image for GB blackhawks icon.png All was quiet on the South Bend campus of Notre Dame Friday morning. Students headed off to class with steam beginning to appear with each exhale; fall was yet a few days away despite a few leafs already beginning to change color.

Their eighth-ranked football team was going into a bye week, yet the energy in the air was still present. Later that day, the Chicago Blackhawks would arrive to open training camp in hopes to make good on a season that ended a little too early with so many expectations riding into it.

The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup last season for the second time in three seasons, which had many prognosticators asking which of these two teams was the more dominant in the post-cap era. The Hawks and Joel Quenneville will look to address that this upcoming season, but first need to answer a few questions of their own regarding a young phenom, the team's ability to hold a lead and exactly how they'll be able to shave $2.2 million in the next month.

After one heck of a Western Conference Final last season, one which went the full seven, the Hawks had to address a few inefficiencies that led to a heartbreaking 5-4 loss. The Hawks led 2-0 in that Game 7, but let it slip away, and ultimately falling in overtime after Alec Martinez bounced one off of Nick Leddy's hip and into the net.

Sure, lucky bounces happen all the time in hockey -- in fact, the Hawks have benefited from a bunch of their own throughout the last few seasons -- but the real depressing reality was losing that lead at home. And it wasn't just that Game 7 that things all of a sudden began to fall apart, it seemed the Hawks played in a fog when holding a lead throughout last season.

That's not to suggest they'd skate on their heels, but something simply wasn't connecting on the ice. Bad turnovers and lack of hustle to get back on defense from a few key players resulted in a few losses that otherwise should have gone for two points. Credit Corey Crawford for keeping his team in most of these wins, and look for Crow to build off of his 2.26 GAA and .917 save percentage, all of which ranked him tenth in the league.

It's also going to be interesting to see how the Hawks work in Teuvo-mania to this year's roster, especially at the beginning of the season. It'll be a safe bet that Quenneville will position Teravainen with Marian Hossa, somewhere down on the third line to start. Hossa is a great two-way player to help bail out any turnovers from the 20-year-old Finnish star, as well as to help stand up to any goonary on the ice.

At some point, Quenneville will likely move Teravainen to the Kane line along with Saad, which really should produce a highlight reel on a nightly basis. Until then, Hawks fans will need to show patience like Cubs fans have with Javier Baez and Kris Bryant.

Despite the way the team went down last June, what has kept Stan Bowman from sleeping soundly all summer was the salary cap and the need to shave off a pile of dough before October. Currently, the league salary cap is set at $69 million and the Hawks are roughly around $71.2 million, which puts them at $2.2 million over.

The rumor all throughout the offseason was how Patrick Sharp and his $5.9 million was going to be traded away for younger and cheaper talent, whether it was actual players, a bunch of draft picks or both. This led to Sharp's agent Rick Curran going through the roof and the thought of having to replace the Hawks' leading scorer last season with 78 points.

That rumor has since subsided, at least for now, and the current word on the street -- the few that make sense -- is Bowman dumping Johnny Oduya ($3.375 million -- unrestricted free agent next season) or Nick Leddy ($2.7 million -- restricted free agent next season), which will get the team under the required cap.

Both are key defensemen for the Hawks, but both are expendable. Oduya is getting a little older (32), and while his rapport with fellow defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson is very good, his injuries have slowed him up a bit.

Leddy makes a better case to stick around, mostly because of his points per 60 minutes while on the ice. Last season, after notching 1,131 minutes of ice time, Leddy's Points/60 came in at 1.01, which ranked him thirty-third in the league amongst all defensemen. (By comparison, Chad Billins of the Calgary Flames led all defensemen with a 1.64 Points/60.)

Oduya ranked 106th in Points/60 with 0.73. And while that might not be the best measuring stick as to whether one stays and one heads to Florida or Winnipeg, the fact remains that Leddy's younger legs and slightly cheaper payroll might be the deciding factor.

This week starts the preseason (Tuesday, September 23) with the Red Wings coming to town to lift the lid at the United Center. Each question will be answered in the days ahead -- cuts, additions, lineup experiments, caps adjustments -- which will setup a team looking for another deep run come next June.

 
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