August 19, 2010 at 1:00 am

Ted Kulfan: NHL Insider

Blackhawks have small margin for error with revamped roster

Patrick Kane led the Blackhawks in goals (30) and assists (58) last season. (Al Bello / Getty Images)

Detroit -- A local hockey fan went to the Blackhawks Fan Convention in downtown Chicago last month and noted the strange atmosphere.

Although the team won its first Stanley Cup since 1961, there was a definite sense of gloom hanging over Blackhawks fans at the event. For good reason, too.

There hasn't been much to celebrate this summer. And perhaps there won't be much to celebrate in the 2010-11 season.

The Blackhawks team this season won't resemble the Stanley Cup-winning team. The NHL salary cap made sure of that.

Everyone knew the Chicago roster would take a hit. Everyone knew the Hawks had serious salary cap problems.

But to this extent? No wonder Hawks fans are muttering to themselves.

"You think you're safe and then someone else goes, and then you think the team is done after that and someone else goes," forward Troy Brouwer, one of the lucky Hawks to have survived the purge, said at the convention. "It's something everyone knew was coming, but its tough to see friends go."

The NHL salary cap is $59.4 million. The Blackhawks would have been $10 million over that had they kept the roster intact.

So, important personnel such as goalie Antti Niemi, forwards Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, John Madden, Adam Burish, Colin Fraser and Ben Eager, and defenseman Brent Sopel were either traded or not re-signed.

The core of this Blackhawks roster remains outstanding, however. Forwards Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp are elite players, and the top four defensemen (Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson) are as good as any team's.

Goalie Marty Turco was signed to replace Niemi -- Turco being a cheaper alternative.

If the Blackhawks have any long-term injuries to the likes of Toews, Kane or Hossa, the team will sink in the standings. There's no doubt of that.

The team won't score as many goals as last season. And Turco will have to duplicate Niemi's heroics in the playoffs.

But Turco made an interesting point while he was in Westland recently to promote a video game launch. Turco said this team won't have the usual pressures or hangovers of defending Stanley Cup champions because the roster is so vastly different.

It is different. And it isn't as good.

Capital fit?

As for Niemi, where will the Stanley Cup-winning goalie wind up? He's an unrestricted free agent after Chicago walked away from his $2.75 million arbitration victory.

Many contending teams are close to the salary cap limit and have little wiggle room. But there's one team that appears to make a ton of sense.

The Washington Capitals seem content with young goalies Semyon Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth. But with big free-agent decisions looming next summer (it could be the Blackhawks all over again), the Capitals should put all their focus on this season.

Washington might look into adding Niemi, who could cure the goaltending ills from the last two playoffs for Washington.

Can of worms

Though an arbitrator ruled Ilya Kovalchuk's 17-year deal with New Jersey illegal, it seems unlikely that the long-term contracts of Robert Luongo (Vancouver), Chris Pronger (Philadelphia), Marc Savard (Boston) and Hossa could be voided.

Some of those deals have been intact for well over a year. To throw them out would result in chaos, and agent J.P. Barry agrees.

"It's really difficult because we operate with some very specific guidelines on interpreting the CBA (collective bargaining agreement)," Barry told CanWest News Service. "We've been operating under pretty strong contract interpretation principles until now, and now we have something that's a little more, I would say, ambiguous.

"My professional opinion as a lawyer and agent is that going back on those contracts after having them registered would be a whole other can of worms, really. It would open other provisions of the CBA for inspection."

By the numbers

4 -- Victories needed by Chris Osgood to reach 400

529 -- Points scored by Washington star Alex Ovechin in 396 career games

606 -- Goals by Teemu Selanne (three from passing former Red Wing Dino Ciccarelli on the all-time list

Still looking

Some prominent free agents still without teams:

Ilya Kovalchuk: His New Jersey contract was voided.

Paul Kariya: Could be headed back to Anaheim and a reunion with Teemu Selanne.

Willie Mitchell: Concussion ended his season in Vancouver. Could be a steal for team rolling the dice.

Bill Guerin: Scored 21 goals in Pittsburgh at age 39. Would be good leader for a young team.

Antti Niemi: Stanley Cup-winning goalie still looking around.

Key dates

Sept. 11: Red Wings begin prospects tournament in Traverse City.

Sept. 17: Red Wings report to training camp in Traverse City.

Sept. 22: Red Wings open exhibition season vs. Pittsburgh.

Oct. 8: Red Wings open regular season vs. Anaheim.

He said it

"It reminds you of when you were young. Right after you're done milking the cows, you go out to the slough. The horn blows at midnight. Mom would toot the truck horn, and we would all come in.

-- Darryl Sutter, Flames general manager, talking about the Feb. 20 Heritage Classic, played outside in Calgary against the Canadiens.

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