LAS VEGAS — The post-shave stubble was pretty thick already, and his voice was still a little gravelly, two clear indications that the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup celebration has spilled into a second week.
“We’re in Vegas,” Jonathan Toews said with a smirk as he talked with reporters in advance of Wednesday’s NHL Awards at the MGM Grand. “So you do the math on that one.”
But while the Hawks are still reveling and basking in the glow of their third championship in six seasons, a harsh reality check was delivered by the NHL on Tuesday morning. Next season’s salary cap will be $71.4 million. It’s almost exactly what was expected, but it was a cruel reminder that next year’s Hawks will look considerably different from this year’s. With just 14 roster players signed at nearly $65 million, and with Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger restricted free agents, the Hawks will have to shed salary. And it’s going to happen soon, as general manager Stan Bowman likely will try to recover some of the draft picks he gave up for Antoine Vermette and Kimmo Timonen in time for Friday’s first round in Sunrise, Fla.
“Meeting today with all the other [general] managers will help with all of that,” Bowman said of trade talks. “We’ve had several discussions. We’re still a few days away from the draft. There’ll be a lot more taking before things happen.”
The Hawks have been through this before. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
“All of a sudden, it does feel a lot like 2010, where it’s imminent,” Toews said. “All of a sudden, we kind of turn our outlook from the positive to the negative of everything. It’s going to be tough for our team and tough for some of our teammates. Obviously, it’s not an enjoyable moment, knowing that we might have to lose a few.”
Patrick Sharp, an alternate captain, a three-time champion and a star member of the Hawks’ vaunted core, is the biggest name on the trading block. Multiple sources say that at least eight teams have expressed legitimate interest in Sharp, including the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers. Talks are still in the preliminary stages, as Bowman tries to feel out the market.
The Hawks have lost key players before —Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, among others, in 2010; and Dave Bolland in 2013 —but Sharp would be by far the biggest cap casualty yet. He’s 11th on the Hawks’ all-time goals list, and 15th on the all-time points list.
Toews said the players have been discussing the grim realities among themselves, after trying to block it out all season.
“There’s always the understanding of those types of things that might be coming around the bend,” he said. “We got questions about it throughout the season. I think we’re all pretty realistic about what might happen.”
NOTE: In an effort to reduce the number of games decided by shootouts, overtime will be 3-on-3 next season, pending expected approval from the board of governors. Overtime had been 4-on-4, while regulation and playoff overtimes are 5-on-5. It likely will be an advantage for highly skilled teams like the Hawks, who can trot out a trio of Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, among other tantalizing combinations.
“It’s exciting for the fans,” Bowman said. “I think they’re going to love it.”
The GMs also endorsed a coach’s challenge for instances of goalie interference and offsides that lead to goals.