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Friday, May 20, 2011
Expect the Hawks to lose a few free agents

By Jesse Rogers

Corey Crawford
Corey Crawford is likely to benefit from the teaching of Hawks goaltending coach Stephan Waite.
The early offseason signing of Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford puts a big check next to one item on general manager Stan Bowman's list of things to do this summer.

At first glance, a three-year deal seems a little light from the Hawks perspective considering the goalie rotation they've employed the last few seasons, though it's good for Crawford. He can become an unrestricted free agent at age 29, and if the Hawks haven't accomplished some more big things by then it will be a huge disappointment. If they live up to their talent and desire -- and he plays like he did this past season -- then Crawford can really cash in.

But the Hawks should be fine because the relationship between goaltender and team couldn't be better. Crawford and goalie coach Stephan Waite are tight, so a new deal before the old one is up seems realistic. Plus, in the NHL these days, committing to a goaltender for a major, extended amount of time can come back and bite a team. The beauty of this deal is even if Crawford surprisingly regresses and the Hawks have to go in another direction, he's not tied up for too long. Additionally, the Hawks -- in theory -- can pay him to back up without destroying their cap situation. But there is no indication to think Crawford will be anything but a very good goaltender in the league for many years.

So the easy part is done. This marriage was a foregone conclusion and the numbers, $8 million for three years, makes a lot of sense. Now comes the hard part.

The Hawks have ten remaining free agents to address, though Marty Turco is as good as gone. Sources indicate Alexander Salak has been signed to a one-way contract, which makes him the front runner to back-up Crawford.

While not exactly giving him the job, his “one-way” status points to the Hawks' confidence in their recently acquired netminder. It's hard to make judgments on Salak having seen very little of him, but he fits the Hawks' desire for bigger goalies. He's about 6-3. Waite should be able to work his magic on the 24-year-old.

With the signing of Salak for just over $600,000, the Hawks have 16 players under contract costing them just over $54 million. The salary cap reportedly is going to be in the $62 million range. Assuming a 22 man roster, that leaves about $8 million for six players, though the Hawks probably won't spend right up to the cap.

With restricted free agents Michael Frolik and Chris Campoli, in particular, expected back, it leaves little wiggle room for others unless the Hawks plan on doing little else in free agency. The prospects of unrestricted free agent Tomas Kopecky returning are slim, and how the Hawks will afford Troy Brouwer remains to be seen. Several players, including Campoli and Brouwer, are arbitration eligible, giving them some leverage as restricted free-agents.

Expect one or more of the restricted free agents to be traded, otherwise the Hawks could free some money by moving defensemen Brian Campbell or Niklas Hjalmarsson. As has been well documented Campbell is a tough buy for another team but he's not impossible to move, just unlikely. Hjalmarsson, on the other hand, is very attractive. There are enough teams needing to spend to the salary cap floor, and Hjalmarsson is young enough (23) to create a market for the Hawks.

If the Hawks are looking for a decent second line center, they will have to pay for it, which means finding the money to do so. That means making some tough choices with some current Hawks who are under contract or are in line for free agency. Turco is gone. Expect a few more to leave before the new season begins.