SUNRISE, Fla. —Eleven days after winning his third Stanley Cup, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was asked whether he could win a fourth one next season.
“Tough to talk about the Cup right now,” he said at Florida’s BB&T Center shortly before Friday’s first round of the NHL Draft. “But a contending team — we expect to be a team that’s going to try to make the playoffs. That’s our goal. We’ve got a lot of key pieces that will all be back. The core is likely going to be real solid and in place.”
But not entirely intact. Patrick Sharp is still the focal point of trade discussions for the Hawks, with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens among the interested suitors. That Hawks were mere spectators on Friday, having traded their first-round pick to Arizona for Antoine Vermette at the trade deadline. General manager Stan Bowman spent most of the round sitting at his table on the floor and watching the proceedings, occasionally chatting on the phone and with other general managers.
“We’ve had a lot of talks,” he said afterward. “Whether it’ll come to anything, I’m not sure. We’re not short on talking, that’s for sure.”
According to a source, the Hawks’ initial asking price for Sharp was very high — a first-round pick, a defenseman and a prospect — and obviously they couldn’t find a taker (though Boston got a No. 13, a prospect and goalie Martin Jones from Los Angeles for Milan Lucic). But Sharp is still very much in play for Saturday’s second day of the draft, and possibly into the summer, when Bowman might have more leverage once free agency shakes out. Kris Versteeg and Bryan Bickell also remain on the block as the Hawks try to free up cap space to re-sign Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger while getting under next season’s $71.4-million salary cap.
“We have a plan and we want to do some certain things, but you can’t always force the timing on things,” Bowman said. “It takes two to make a deal.”
While Sharp’s departure seems inevitable, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa and Niklas Hjalmarsson will all be back, so the Hawks still will be loaded. But the depth will be young. Trevor van Riemsdyk, David Rundblad and Stephen Johns figure to get heavy minutes on the blue line. Quenneville said Teuvo Teravainen will get a crack at center, which likely means Brad Richards isn’t expected to be back. Russian import Artemi Panarin could get a featured role, too. The Western Conference and Central Division are getting better every year. And it’s hard to imagine the Hawks not taking at least a small step back.
There’s a whole lot of potential there. But not a whole lot of experience. And it might require a whole lot of patience for a coach who’s not exactly known for it.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be any different,” Quenneville said. “I think the group will be very competitive. I don’t think it’ll change. Patience, I don’t know if that’s the right word. When they get up here, we’re in the winning business. I think waiting, waiting, waiting, you might be too far behind the eight-ball.”
There’s a bright side to that inexperience, however. The Hawks have coasted through significant stretches of the regular season over the past two years, saving themselves for the postseason. A bunch of physically and mentally fresh young players can help reinvigorate them for the long campaign — one in which every point will count. The internal competition for playing time can’t hurt, either.
“We can rely on our younger guys initially to get some excitement in our team game going,” Quenneville said.
Quenneville said he had an idea of when he’ll have his day with the Stanley Cup, and that he was “going to have some fun” with it. But with the draft under way, and free agency looming on July 1 — the Hawks won’t be very active, but likely will watch as Johnny Oduya, Antoine Vermette and Richards, among others, leave — next season is already here.
NOTE: Defenseman Mike Reilly chose the Minnesota Wild over his other finalist, the Hawks, on Friday. Reilly had six goals and 36 assists in 39 games as a junior at Minnesota this past season, and could have boosted the Hawks’ blue-line depth. “He was a player we liked,” Bowman said. “But we turn the page on that and focus on other things.”
Bowman said the Hawks have tendered qualifying offers to all their NHL-level restricted free agents, but that they were still deciding on a couple of Rockford players.
WGN Radio will have the Stanley Cup on its float in the Chicago Pride Parade on Sunday. A Hawks spokesman said the team was still working on which team representatives — and possibly any players — would accompany it.