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Brent Seabrook agrees to eight-year extension

Joel Quenneville gave Brent Seabrook an “A” this month.

Stan Bowman just gave him a lot more than that.

Seabrook, the Blackhawks’ vocal leader and stalwart defenseman, agreed to an eight-year contract extension on Saturday, a deal that will keep the 30-year-old in Chicago through the 2023-24 season. Seabrook’s deal is worth $55 million, with an annual cap hit of $6.875 million. It will kick in next season.

The money’s obviously nice, but the eight-year term — the longest contract allowed under the CBA — was particularly important to Seabrook.

“I’m proud to be a Blackhawk, I’d like to spend my whole career here,” he said following the Hawks’ 3-1 preseason victory over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night. “It’s up to me to fulfill my end of the bargain and go from there. I’m looking forward to the challenge, and I’m really excited to be here.”

Quenneville named Seabrook — the Hawks’ first-round draft pick in 2003 — an alternate captain earlier this month. The coach called it a “no-brainer.” Jonathan Toews is the Hawks’ undisputed captain. But Seabrook is the emotional leader on and off the ice.

“That’s the way he carries himself.” Quenneville said. “He’s been here for a lot of years and he’s been a big part of the success that we’ve had. When we talked to the captains, Seabs was always part of that, as well. So, he [already] was one of them.”

Duncan Keith (who is signed through 2022-23) and Seabrook broke into the league together in 2005-06, playing in front of thousands of empty seats at the United Center on a lousy team. The idea that they’d play their entire careers together as teammates, defensive partners and (at least) three-time Stanley Cup champions seemed awfully far-fetched at the time.

“He’s been an unbelievable teammate and great guy, great friend, and I”m happy to know that we’re going to be playing together for a long time,” Keith said. “It’s pretty neat to think about that.”

While the contract locks up the core for the foreseeable future, it likely will put the Hawks right back in salary-cap hell next summer. The Hawks have more than $57 million tied up in just nine players — Toews, Patrick Kane, Seabrook, Corey Crawford, Keith, Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Bryan Bickell. This year’s salary cap is $71.4 million. Even with Keith (5.5 million) and Hossa ($5.275 million) on some of the most team-friendly deals in the NHL, Bowman likely will have to continue nipping, tucking and squeezing to fill out his roster.

He’s fine with that. For one thing, Seabrook might look like a bargain in a few years — much like Keith’s does now. For another, star players who are proven winners don’t grow on trees.

“That’s a great problem to have — you can’t just go pick up a Brent Seabrook,” Bowman said. “The salary cap is a puzzle that we all have to figure out. Every team faces those challenges. But I look at it as a great situation to be in. The hardest thing is to find talented players that are committed to winning. And when you have them, you do everything you can and then you make it work. There’ll be new challenges every year, but there was never a hesitation that we would bring Brent back.”

Seabrook chose to look at the positive side of the cap situation, too. With so many big stars locked up long-term, the empty arenas and miserable seasons that marked Seabrook’s first few years in Chicago should continue to be just a distant memory.

“We’ve got a great group of players,” Seabrook said. “I think we’ve got a chance to win every year with the guys we have. So I’m looking forward to that challenge.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus