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updated: 6/3/2014 11:02 PM

Blackhawks ready to make changes? Not big ones

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  • Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman

      Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman

 
 

Even when you win the Stanley Cup, you have to alter the roster to ensure a continuing influx of young talent that supports the veteran core.

Since most of the kids joining the fray don't immediately jump into a top-six role -- or become top four on defense -- the key is adding those pieces every year and giving young players a chance to grow into more important roles.

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The Blackhawks were a bounce away from winning it all again, so hysterics are unnecessary and, yet, overreactions expected.

But the Hawks don't need a major overhaul. They do, however, need to create cap space in order to re-sign Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, work out deals with restricted free agents Ben Smith (this summer) and Brandon Saad (next summer), retain flexibility in-season and add more young players to the mix.

"I don't think wholesale changes are in order. It's not warranted," GM Stan Bowman said Tuesday. "We're looking for more growth from within, and Saad is a perfect example of that."

Last summer, as an ode to winning and a gift to Joel Quenneville for a second Stanley Cup, the Hawks kept ancient veterans Michal Handzus and Michal Rozsival, at the expense of bringing in younger players.

As close as they came to winning again, it's hard to criticize those roster decisions for a team trying to repeat and in a position to go for it all, but it did mean a year of NHL development lost.

As players, coaches and the GM met the media for the last time this season Tuesday at the UC, Quenneville denied that he has any issue with young players.

"I don't mind playing young guys," Quenneville said. "I don't mind having young guys around."

History suggests that at the very least, Quenneville prefers veterans he trusts over kids he doesn't, so the likes of Jimmy Hayes, Dylan Olsen and Brandon Pirri were sent packing, and Jeremy Morin sat behind veterans like Kris Versteeg.

"It's a progression and it takes time," Bowman said. "We're fortunate that we don't have to rush players, and every year we've seen one or two players come in."

There are a lot of moving parts to the roster construction, and the only certainty is Kane and Toews will get paid and cap space will be at a premium.

That's why it wouldn't be a huge shock to see someone like Patrick Sharp dealt this summer. Even though he's due $17 million the next three years (cap hit of $5.9 million), there will be plenty of interest in a guy who led the Hawks in goals (34) and points (78) during the regular season.

He is not a Quenneville favorite and that makes it a bit easier to deal him, as Bowman works hard to keep his coach happy.

Sharp, who will be 33 in December, had 5 goals and 5 assists in the playoffs but struggled for most of the postseason and wasn't nearly the factor he was a year ago when he had 10 goals and 16 points.

Asked Tuesday if he was injured, which seems a strong possibility, Sharp said, "At this point in the year everyone has something going on. I'm not gonna make any excuses for the way I played at different stretches of the playoffs."

Some have wondered as well about Brent Seabrook, who's 29 and has two years and $10 million left on his deal (cap hit of $5.8 million), but he's a Quenneville favorite.

There are other candidates, like Johnny Oduya, who will be 33 when the season starts, has a $3.3 million cap hit and is unrestricted after next season.

There's also Nick Leddy, who's only 23 and after pulling down $3.4 million next season will be a restricted free agent.

"Slowly and quietly, he improved his game," Bowman said. "I look at the player Nick is today and every year he's taken a step forward. I like the progression that we've seen. He's still very young and as a defenseman we're very excited where he's at."

This one is tricky because puck-moving defensemen are expensive and hard to find, and Leddy is so young, but I thought Leddy regressed this year and Quenneville was uncomfortable playing him in big situations.

An argument for keeping Leddy is the defense is starting to get a little long in the tooth and the best competition in the division and conference is getting younger and faster.

Defensemen Klas Dahlbeck and Adam Clendening, to name just two, are ready to play in Chicago, but in a perfect world they would have already gotten their feet wet as sixth and seventh defensemen.

On the flip side, the Hawks did a nice job incorporating Smith (25) and Saad (21) the last two years, and Teuvo Teravainen (19) and Morin (23) will likely join the team next season.

For a team that came within inches of repeating as champs, major change isn't necessary.

Quenneville is still a great coach and the Hawks still have a great roster, but there is work to be done.

It might even include trading names that have become very familiar around these parts.

It's the price the Hawks have to pay for keeping their best players -- and having a shot to win it all.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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