Blackhawks biding their time as free-agent frenzy dies down

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Settle in, Blackhawks fans. This could take a while.

Day 2 of free agency came and went on Thursday, and Patrick Sharp is still on the Hawks roster. So are Bryan Bickell and Kris Versteeg. Marcus Kruger remains unsigned. So do Joakim Nordstrom and Andrew Desjardins. Johnny Oduya remains an unrestricted free agent, patiently sitting on offers while waiting out the Hawks to see if they can somehow free up enough salary-cap space to bring him back to a blue line that desperately needs him.

Training camp doesn’t open for more than two months. The Hawks don’t need to be under the salary cap until Oct. 7. And Stan Bowman appears to be in no rush.

It was a quiet day around the league, other than the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals swapping wingers T.J. Oshie and Troy Brouwer. All the Hawks did was add a couple of depth defensemen probably headed for Rockford: Cameron Schilling and Michael Liambas.

But there’s still much work to do.

With 12 forwards, five defensemen and two goaltenders, the Hawks have more than $71 million committed already, and a few spots left to fill. Talks with Kruger continue to inch along slowly, though Bowman said Tuesday that the two sides were “close” to a deal. Defenseman prospect Stephen Johns is the front-runner to make the team out of camp, so that’s another $800,000. And the Hawks want to add another veteran defenseman, whether it’s bringing back Oduya somehow (his cap hit was $3.375 million this past season) or Kyle Cumiskey, or signing someone such as Christian Ehrhoff.

Next year’s salary cap will be $71.4 million, so salary-shedding trades are still coming. The Brandon Saad trade did little to prevent that, as Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano gobble up the salary earmarked for him. Sharp and Bickell still are the leading candidates to be dealt, as they combine for a $9.9-million cap hit, each with two years left on his contract.

A source said that the Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals, New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens were among the initial teams with some interest in Sharp. But the Penguins got their winger in Kessel, and the Capitals added Oshie. The Boston Bruins were believed to be sniffing around Bickell, but acquired power forward Jimmy Hayes (an ex-Hawks winger) and signed winger Matt Beleskey on Wednesday.

That doesn’t leave Bowman with many potential trade partners as the July frenzy dies down. But Bowman has been patient in the past, waiting all the way until October last year to deal Nick Leddy, even though he knew he had to do it to get under the cap. Teams are allowed to be up to 10 percent over the cap during the summer, and don’t need to be cap-compliant until the season opener.

“You’ve got to be cap compliant, but there’s a lot of ways to do that,” Bowman said at the draft on Saturday. “We don’t have to do it at any specific time, other than prior to the season.”

The only reason for rushing at this point would be to free up space and make an offer to Oduya and/or Desjardins, the two unrestricted free agents that conceivably could be back. Both have offers on the table from other teams, but both have received interest from the Hawks, as well.

It’s just a matter of making the numbers work.

“We’re not really at a point yet where we know what we would be offering, or what we’d be capable of offering,” Bowman said Saturday.


Twitter: @marklazerus

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