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Article updated: 6/26/2013 8:47 PM

Keeping Bickell should be Bowman's No. 1 priority

By Tim Sassone

The last time the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, general manager Stan Bowman didn't get very long to enjoy it.

Almost immediately following the parade, Bowman had to start ripping apart the team because of salary-cap issues. By the time he was done, more than half the roster had been turned over for the start of the season in 2010-11.

Bowman's challenge isn't nearly as severe this time, but there still are decisions that need to be made -- and soon -- with the start of free agency July 5.

That's next Friday for those who haven't paid close enough attention to the calendar with the Stanley Cup Final going on.

With the salary cap going down to $64.3 million from $70.2 million, Bowman won't be the only GM scrambling to make everything fit.

Unrestricted free agents:

čBryan Bickell -- This will be Bowman's biggest problem, keeping the 27-year-old power forward who starred in the playoffs with 9 goals and 8 assists.

Bickell spent the season as the Hawks' lowest-paid player with a salary of $541,667, but that's about to change.

At least three teams -- the Rangers, San Jose and Edmonton -- are said to be very interested in the 6-foot-4, 230-pound left winger and might be ready to throw as much as $14 million at him over three years.

Bowman has said he will try to do whatever he can to keep Bickell, but that's a big number. The Hawks have developed Bickell since selecting him in the second round of the 2004 draft, but that doesn't mean he will give them a hometown discount.

čMichal Rozsival-- The defenseman turned out to be a bargain at $2 million, but Rozsival will be 35 when training camp starts and probably doesn't have too much left in those legs.

The Hawks have Adam Clendening waiting in the wings at Rockford to take Rozsival's spot, and he would be a boost to the power play, which struggled badly along the way to the Cup.

čRay Emery -- There are those that think Emery is going to get a chance to be a No. 1 goalie somewhere after going 17-1, but I don't see it.

He's an excellent backup and he could return to spell Corey Crawford again if the price is right. Emery's cap hit was $1.15 million, and the Hawks might be willing to go as high as $1.6 million to bring him back.

Keep Philadelphia in mind when it comes to Emery. The Flyers bought out Ilya Bryzgalov and are looking for a goalie, but the rumor is they've been talking to Buffalo about Ryan Miller. A Miller-Emery combo in Philly is definitely possible.

If the Hawks lose Emery, it would open the door for recently signed Antti Raanta to get a long look at training camp.

čMichal Handzus -- The Hawks managed to squeeze every bit out of Handzus and now it's time to say thanks for the 3 playoff goals, none bigger than the one he scored in Game 5 in Detroit to start the third-period comeback.

Handzus was a great pickup near the trade deadline, filling the second-line center role, and it's questionable if the Hawks could have won the Cup without him.

Handzus won't be back.

čViktor Stalberg -- He's all but gone, and he knows it. No goals in 19 playoff games, and questioning his role on the team on several occasions during the playoffs certainly didn't endear him to coach Joel Quenneville.

Stalberg is fast, but that's pretty much the extent of his game. Edmonton is said to be interested in Stalberg, but not as a top-six forward.

čJamal Mayers -- Maybe the classiest of all the Hawks, the 38-year-old Mayers can retire as a Stanley Cup champion if he so chooses.

Mayers' biggest moment of the season came in Phoenix when he fought Raffi Torres in the first meeting between the Hawks and Torres since the 2012 playoffs, when Torres gave Marian Hossa a severe concussion with that dirty hit.

Restricted free agents:

čNick Leddy -- His stock was much higher before the playoffs, when the coaching staff lost confidence in him.

Leddy still has a massive upside that will be reflected in his new contract. He was paid $1.116 million this season and could be looking at a bump to the $1.8 million to $2 million range.

Leddy is ripe for an offer sheet from some team if the Hawks don't watch it.

čMarcus Kruger -- The gritty center had a good season and should get a nice raise from the $900,000 he made this year. Kruger was a key to the penalty-killing unit that started fast and didn't slow down until the Cup was raised.

The rest:

Bowman will have much bigger problems next summer and especially in 2015 when Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane come due for new contracts.

Toews and Kane signed five-year, $31.5 million deals in 2010 and have won two Stanley Cups and numerous trophies since then, including the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Toews took home the Conn Smythe in 2010 and Kane just won his on Monday for what he did in the 2013 playoffs.

Next summer Bowman will have Crawford, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Dave Bolland to deal with as unrestricted free agents.

Crawford will be entering the third and final season of a three-year, $8 million contract he signed before last season, and now he has a Stanley Cup on his resume.

Hjalmarsson's four-year, $14 million contract will be up after next year as well. He got an offer sheet from San Jose the last time he was a free agent, so there's a strong chance teams will be lining up to sign him.

Bolland will be finishing up a five-year, $16.875 contract he got from former GM Dale Tallon.

Compliance buyouts:

Bowman hasn't yet said what he plans to do with the two compliance buyouts he gets under the new collective-bargaining agreement. The buyout window opened Wednesday night and will stay open until 5 p.m. on July 4.

Bowman can use one this summer and one next summer, or he can use them both now.

Defenseman Steve Montador is the most likely to be bought out with two years left on his contract at $5.5 million. Montador's $2.75 million cap hit would come immediately off the Hawks' payroll, but the player receives what he is owed.

Rostislav Olesz is another possibility to be bought out with one year left on his contract at $3.1 million.

Nevertheless, that's close to $6 million the Hawks can shave off their payroll if they buy out Montador and Olesz.

Teams cannot buy out players if they are hurt.

čFollow Tim's hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.

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