In December 2009, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and his assistants managed to lock Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane into five-year extensions with a cap hit of only $6.3 million.
Since then, the dynastic duo has led the Hawks to a pair of Stanley Cups and collected two Conn Smythe Trophies, coming within a bounce of winning a third Cup this month.
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Yeah, it's not going to be quite as easy this time.
That's why much of what Bowman does over the next couple of days and weeks will be with an eye toward locking up the Hawks' stars for many more years.
Both players are due to become free agents after next season and could easily ask for $12 million annual deals, but if they want to continue to compete for Cups in Chicago, perhaps they'll settle for something that leaves the Hawks with roughly $10 million cap hits.
Either way, and even with the cap reportedly going up $5 million to about $70 million next season, Bowman must look ahead to the next several years and find ways to remain near the top of the NHL.
That's why the Hawks have made Patrick Sharp available in trade talks, hardly a surprise to NHL GMs who can look at the Chicago roster and determine that the Hawks must plan for the future.
It's not that the Hawks are anxious to move their leading scoring from last season, but Sharp will be 33 in December, is due $17 million the next three years (cap hit of $5.9 million), and he's coming off a less-than-Sharp-type postseason.
He's not a Joel Quenneville favorite but is extremely marketable on and off the ice. Sharp also has a limited-movement clause, so dealing him to a team like the Panthers -- who are looking for a scoring winger -- might not be as simple as merely making a phone call.
"I've never commented on rumors, and I'm not going to start today," Bowman said during a media conference call Thursday afternoon. "I don't think it's helpful for anyone. I won't get into specifics of ongoing negotiations with any of our players."
Trade talks around the league have already begun and will heat up in a large way starting with the draft in Philadelphia on Friday, when moves around the NHL will become fast if not entirely furious.
"We've been here for a few days already and we're making lots of phone calls and taking lots of calls," Bowman said. "It's a dual purpose to this time of year.
"We've talked a lot about players that will be available. It's a big chunk of our time. There's a lot of movement, so there's a lot of phone calls made to agents and GMs.
"I've been very busy the last few days trying to prepare on both fronts."
With few top players available in free agency and what's considered to be a thin draft, trades will be the best way for some teams to improve in the next few weeks.
"You need to do your homework and be prepared," Bowman said, "so you're in the know when things begin to break."
Centers Ryan Kesler, Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza and defenseman Johnny Boychuk are among the high-profile names rumored to be in play, and lots of talk surrounds conference rivals Anaheim and St. Louis being in on those players.
Bowman, however, always sounds a bit frustrated when he's asked about the Hawks' need for a second-line center.
"We don't number our lines as much as the media does," he said Thursday. "We have some players internally we're pretty confident will be NHL players. That will play itself out over the next few months."
During the final few games against Los Angeles, Kane seemed to find something with Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad, while Teuvo Teravainen should also become part of the equation in the fall.
But as big-name centers move around the NHL in the next few weeks, Hawks fans will continue to voice their aggravation that the Hawks haven't found Kane a classic No. 2 center.
The reality is you can't have everything when so few players eat up so much of the cap. The answer to improving the roster -- and getting Toews and Kane signed -- might be in moving a popular player off the roster, perhaps even for a very high pick in the draft.
There are also rebuilding teams willing to buy draft picks from other clubs by taking on aging players worthy of a compliance buyout.
"I'm not ruling out moving up or moving back," Bowman said. "Picking late in the first, we've done a little of both over the years."
And in the meantime, the Hawks are always looking far ahead.
"We have a pretty good pipeline of players at different levels right now," Bowman said. "Some at Rockford are ready to play here, some are a year away, some in college or Europe are a couple years away.
"Players we're looking at this year (in the draft), we're OK with them being a few years away."
That is hardly the focus of fans wondering how the Hawks can cash in on a core that is built to win today.
And that makes the next few days crucial.
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