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Potential cap crunch could be a serious blow to Blackhawks

EDMONTON, Alberta — Here’s the nightmare scenario for the Blackhawks. The fading Canadian dollar, currently valued at about 89 cents, stays stagnant, or worse, continues to fall. The NHL’s all-important hockey-related revenue takes a hit, while player salaries continue to be paid in U.S. dollars. And the salary cap — expected to rise as much as $5 million or more thanks to a $5.2-billion Canadian television contract — barely rises above the current level of $69 million, if it even rises at all.

With more than $65 million tied up in 15 players — including $21 million for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane alone — in 2015-16, that leaves the Hawks with maybe just a few million dollars to spend and at least six roster spots to fill, with Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger due significant raises as restricted free agents.

The math simply doesn’t work.

“Obviously, if the cap doesn’t go up and we keep the exact same team — no, that wouldn’t work,” Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said.

What seemed far-fetched four months ago when Toews and Kane signed their massive eight-year contract extensions now seems distinctly plausible, as fear spreads around the league that the cap might not rise much next season. For teams such as the Hawks, Bruins, Kings and Flyers, who are all right up against the cap, it could prove calamitous.

It was already almost inevitable that at least one highly paid member of the Hawks “core” would have to be jettisoned next summer in order to keep the Hawks under the cap. If the number stays around $69 million, they might have to lose two such players. Patrick Sharp (signed through 2016-17 at $5.9 million a season), Brent Seabrook (signed through next season at $5.8 million) and Bryan Bickell (signed through 2016-17 at $4 million) are among the possible cap casualties who could fetch a bounty of prospects and draft picks in trades.

The Hawks don’t want to move any of them. But they might not have a choice.

“We’ve been through this type of talk before,” Bowman said. “I’ve always been cautious to make predictions, good or bad, about the cap. It’ll be what it is, and we’ll figure it out. I’m not really focused on that point right now. If it doesn’t go up a lot or if it stays the same, we’ll find a way to make it work.”

That basically Bowman’s job description — to have contingency plans in place. And few GMs around the league have been better at massaging and maximizing the cap as Bowman has since the Hawks’ post-Stanley Cup cap purge in the summer of 2010.

“We’ve been doing that for a while, not just because there are rumors,” Bowman said. “That’s our job, to be prepared.”

Bowman wouldn’t say if the cap uncertainty has or will affect negotiations with Saad and Kruger. Last year, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Bollig each received contract extensions during the season. Others, such as Corey Crawford and Niklas Hjalmarsson, signed extensions in the offseason. Saad figures to triple or quadruple his current salary of $764,000, and Kruger is due a raise from his $1.325 million deal.

Joel Quenneville has said that the 2010 team played with a sense of desperation and urgency, knowing the cap crunch was coming, knowing it was their last chance to win a championship together. This year’s group doesn’t face quite the same apocalyptic scenario, but no matter what happens with the cap, there’s likely to be some significant retooling, if not rebuilding, ahead.

Not that Bowman has any regrets about the Toews and Kane contracts. Especially considering both could have made even more on the open market. It’s just the cost of doing business.

“The one thing that trumps everything is you need great players on your team, and great players make a lot of money,” Bowman said. “So I would much rather be in the position where you’ve got them and you try to make your cap work, than to not have them.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus