Chicago – The reassignment of former Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon came as no surprise to those that had monitored the situation closely.
As far back as the final months of the 2008-09 campaign, there were signs that the organization had begun to groom assistant general manager Stan Bowman for the position.
It was only a matter of time before Stan joined his famous father Scotty as the brains of the operation, and when one considers their salary-cap situation, the move wasn’t without cause.
The Blackhawks have followed a similar path taken by the Penguins in recent years, as both rebuilt their teams around talent selected early in the draft order.
Whereas the Penguins chose to build down the middle, however, the Blackhawks made
offense their top priority.
The Penguins were intent to lock up young core players Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik and Jordan Staal, each of whom is under contract at reasonable salaries through at least the 2012-13 season.
The Blackhawks intend to do the same with Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews eventually, but for now, they subscribe to a right-here-right-now approach that could severely limit their options in the uncertain economic times to come.
Central to the dilemma are the lucrative deals of 30-year-old defenseman Brian Campbell and 33-year-old goalie Cristobal Huet, neither of whom is on the short list of elite players at his position.
Campbell ($7.14 million) and Huet ($5.625) are under contract at an annual cost of $12.765 million in the next three seasons. As such, each will be difficult to trade down the road.
Ditto newcomer Marian Hossa, who accepted a 12-year, $62.8-million offer last month.
The former Penguin will be paid $7.9 million as late as the 2015-16 season, at which time he will be 37 years old.
What’s more, even though they are expected to play on the third line, Dustin Byfuglien ($3 million) and John Madden ($2.75 million) would be among the top six highest paid Penguins forwards next season.
In fact, Pittsburgh has $21.4 million committed to their “Big Three”, Crosby, Malkin, Staal and only $14.025 committed to their other 10 forwards.
In particular, the decision to sign Huet before high-priced veteran Nikolai Khabibulin could be moved last off-season proved to be a costly one, and it no doubt played a role in the decision to move Tallon to an advisor role.
Tallon gambled that Khabibulin could be traded before the start of last season, but even when the 36-year-old was placed on waivers, there was no interest around the league
. As a result, the team committed nearly 22 percent of the salary- cap total ($12.375 million) to a pair of goaltenders even though one had to sit each game.
Conversely, in Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins have one of the best bargains in the league to anchor their future.
At an average salary of $5 million, Fleury will be paid $625,000 less per season than Huet in the next three seasons.
The Blackhawks will be more desperate than ever to finally hoist the Stanley Cup next season, when Campbell, Hossa and Huet will eat up 32 percent of their salary cap total.
They will benefit from their playoff experience against the Detroit Red Wings much like the Penguins did last spring.
The challenge for the Bowmans will be to sustain any success in the next season and the one after that, and the smart money says it’s one they’ve discussed for months already.
On paper the Blackhawks are the team to beat in the Western Conference. Marian Hossa at a cap hit of $5.2 million is a major upgrade over Martin Havlat and when looking ahead, the contract won’t affect their cap if he retires before his contract ends.
The Blackhawks have a dynamic group of forwards upfront and the addition of John Madden gives them a much needed veteran presence on their third line.
The Hawks are clearly built to win this season but the major question mark is Cristobal Huet who is a fringe #1 goaltender.
He could be the major downfall of the team going forward and they don’t have the cap room to bring in an established veteran like Marty Biron.
Minus the qualifying blunder, like the Penguins, the Hawks have done a solid job of locking up their core players to “good value contracts” (Barker $3.08 million, Seabrook $3.5 million, Sharp $4 million)
It’s the blunders of over-paying in free agency for the likes of Campbell and Huet which could lead to the Blackhawks taking a step back after this season, when they are forced to move salary to retain franchise type players; Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith.
If the Hawks keep their core intact they will stay competitive for years to come but their time as a Stanley Cup contender could be shorten due to questions in goal and their future cap situation — DePaoli