Blackhawks’ Seabrook popular topic in NHL

Whether or not the Blackhawks like it, there is a Brent Seabrook buzz around the league right now.

The Hawks have said he’s not available and intend to sign him to a new contract despite their cap squeeze, but that hasn’t stopped the conversation about him.

Seabrook is finishing a deal worth $3.5 million this season, and then he’s a restricted free agent.

Having failed to get him inked to a new pact, it has NHL types wondering if Seabrook will be available before the trade deadline — or perhaps after the season.

GM Stan Bowman has said that won’t happen, but the fact that the Hawks don’t have his signature on paper has some thinking the Hawks may have left themselves vulnerable to an offer sheet again.

It doesn’t happen very often around the NHL because of the exorbitant compensation, but at the GMs meetings last June during the Finals in Philly, a similar buzz surrounded Antti Niemi and Niklas Hjalmarsson — and no one wanted to believe that either.

But one got an offer sheet and one was cut loose after an arbitration award.

Now you have in Seabrook a player better than Dustin Byfuglien, a one-way defenseman leading the NHL in goals at his position.

Byfuglien just signed a five-year extension worth $5.2 million a year — a contract that raised eyebrows around the NHL — and it’s hard to imagine Seabrook asking for less than that.

You have to believe Bowman when he says he wants to keep Seabrook, wants to get him signed, and has no plans to trade him before the deadline since the Hawks insist they can make another run.

As for what happens after the season, the fact that Seabrook is still unsigned despite the Hawks’ desire to make it happen suggests not even Bowman knows for sure.

Pat Hughes

The first radio broadcast of spring training will be Sunday when the Cubs take on Oakland, and it means the first work for Pat Hughes since the passing of Ron Santo.

“I knew it was coming so I didn’t think I’d be this emotional, but it’s really starting to hit home,” Hughes said. “You start to think, ‘Wow, this is really going to be different.’ It’s real now. After 15 years with Ron, after seeing him every single day, it’s hard to imagine.

“But I’m looking forward to working with Keith (Moreland) and excited to get going again.”

East vs. West

In less than a year, the NBA’s Eastern Conference has added Carlos Boozer, Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams.

By next year Stoudemire and Anthony will add Williams, Chris Paul or Dwight Howard to make yet another Big Three in the conference, and the two left out will look to create another power trio.

Just when it seemed like this was all setting up perfectly for the Bulls in the next year or two as the Celtics get old, Miami and New York — and maybe New Jersey — have plans of their own.

Certainly will make for an interesting next five years in the East.

Cubs and Cards

The Cubs are going to need breaks this year if they want to compete for a playoff spot, and they got the first big one of the spring when Cards ace Adam Wainwright went down with an elbow injury.

Over the last three years, St. Louis went 58-29 in his starts, and over the last two years Wainwright was tops in the NL in wins, innings and ERA.

The loss is so big for St. Louis that the Cards now slip down to perhaps the same level as the Cubs, who on paper trail the Brewers and Reds.

Of course, the spring is quite young and injuries the next five weeks will affect those preseason perceptions.

Stayin’ alive

Elmhurst’s Mark Wilson, who’s won twice on the PGA Tour already this season and leads in FedEx Cup points, took down Dustin Johnson in the opening round of match play in Tucson on Wednesday by rallying to tie on 18 and then winning on the first hole of overtime.

Wilson (a 13 seed) will face Bubba Watson (5) in the round of 32 on Thursday.

Thin ice

Miami Herald’s Greg Cote: “The Panthers’ Stephen Weiss is at the center of speculation as the NHL trade deadline nears. Despite the club’s 10-year playoff drought, he said he loves it here and wants to stay, leading analysts to wonder if Weiss might have a concussion.”

Best headline “Isiah Thomas calls timeout during FIU game to text James Dolan some ideas about the Knicks.”

And finally …

Omaha World-Herald’s Brad Dickson: “Aaron Rodgers still refuses to speak to Brett Favre. You know the name for someone who still refuses to speak to Brett Favre? ‘Brett Favre’s wife.’”

ŸListen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score’s “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM.