Ex-factor taking a toll on Blackhawks

February, 15, 2011
2/15/11
5:40
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Antti NiemiGlenn James/Getty ImagesAntti Niemi has helped lift the Sharks past the Hawks in the standings.


There seems to be more news about former Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks than there is about current ones.

Kris Versteeg got traded from the Maple Leafs to the Flyers; Dustin Byfuglien signed a multiyear extension with the Thrashers and Antti Niemi is red hot with the San Jose Sharks.

Almost none of the above news affects the Hawks much, or does it?

Chicago has played Philadelphia, so unless there is a finals rematch, the Hawks won't see Versteeg until next season. If there is a rematch, then Versteeg will pull a Marian Hossa and play in back to back finals for opposing sides.

As for Niemi and Byfgulien, they do have an impact on the Hawks.

Thanks in part to Niemi's play, the Sharks have risen from the dead. Since Jan. 15, Niemi is 8-2-1 with a 2.09 goals against average, and a save percentage of .933. Those are lofty numbers. The Sharks passed the Hawks in the standings and hold one of the eight playoff spots.

Based on pure play -- and not dollars -- the Hawks lost out on their goalie switch of the offseason. Marty Turco for Niemi has not been a winner for Chicago.

But maybe the Hawks knew something about Corey Crawford and figured they'd take a cheap Turco, hope for the best, and have Crawford waiting in the wings. It was a risky proposition, but maybe it will work out, though they did give some points away early in the season with the leaky Turco in net for the majority of time.

As for Byfuglien's deal, Brent Seabrook must be licking his chops. The former Hawk forward and defenseman signed a 5-year, $26 million deal with Atlanta. His agent, Ben Hankinson, says they've been working on the deal for about a month, and Byfuglien's desire for the team to stay in Atlanta was key.

"He thinks there are similarities with Chicago a few years ago," Hankinson said. "Byfuglien could have had one year and then shopped around. He likes the young core."

And that's where the similarities with Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook begin and end. Seabrook and Byfuglien are a month apart in age, both were to be restricted free agents at the end of this season and unrestricted at the end of next.

Byfuglien is off the market, making $5.2 million per year, so what does that mean for Seabrook?

Until this year, the two players would never have been mentioned in the same sentence unless they happened to team up on a scoring play. Seabrook has accomplished so much more in his career, it's not even worth documenting it compared to Byfuglien. But Byfuglien is having a big year while Seabrook has come down a notch since the magical 2009-10 campaign.

This is where it gets tricky. Atlanta, undoubtedly, wanted to make Byfuglien one of the faces of the franchise while also locking him up before he got to unrestricted free agency. And Byfuglien is right about one similarity to Chicago: It wasn't that long ago the Hawks would have to overpay for free agents. Atlanta is in the same situation, even when it comes to its own players.

And then there is the salary cap. Even with Byfuglien's new money, the Thrashers have only $35 million committed to payroll next year with 15 players under contract already. The Hawks have 11 players signed at approximately $43.5 million.

So this is where Seabrook must face reality, not unlike what Niemi had to do. If he wants to stay in Chicago he'll probably have to take less money than he could get on the open market. That's a reality no player likes to face, but the Hawks have spent so much, someone is going to have to swallow the pill or walk out the door.

Will it be Seabrook or the next star, Patrick Sharp, whose contract is up after next season? Or will the Hawks get cap creative and sign them both? Time will tell.

Jesse Rogers | email

Chicago Cubs beat reporter
Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers the Chicago Cubs for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Patrick Sharp
PTS GOALS AST +/-
78 34 44 13
OTHER LEADERS
GoalsP. Sharp 34
AssistsD. Keith 55
+/-M. Hossa 28
GAAC. Crawford 2.26