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Trade talk hits fever pitch as draft weekend approaches

Andrew Shaw's fate could be decided in the next few days. (Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — Stan Bowman’s phone often seems to be surgically attached to his ear, the Blackhawks general manager constantly roaming arena hallways and press boxes discussing who-knows-what with who-knows-whom.

But perhaps no time is busier for Bowman than draft weekend, as teams prepare for the trading free-for-all that comes with all 30 general managers under the same roof.

“This is the one time of the year when there’s probably the most dialogue among the teams,” Bowman said Thursday as he prepares for the NHL Entry Draft, which begins on Friday in Buffalo. “Lots of rumors floating around. I’d say the majority of those are false.”

So while the curious and almost comical rumor that the Hawks are interested in trading for Pittsburgh superstar Evgeni Malkin (who carries a $9.5-million cap hit through the 2021-22 season) is easily dismissed, there are seemingly endless possibilities for the Hawks this weekend. The most pressing concern continues to be restricted free agent Andrew Shaw. The Hawks freed up some desperately needed cap space by sending Bryan Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen to Carolina last week, but fitting Shaw under the newly established $73-million salary cap still won’t be easy, and a trade is still very much possible.

“It hasn’t even been 24 hours [since the cap number was revealed] so I don’t have a final answer on where we’re going,” Bowman said of Shaw. “Had some good discussions with his agent [Pat Brisson]. That’s sort of ongoing. We’re trying to get something done; that’s how I can characterize it.”

The looming expansion draft next summer adds an interesting wrinkle to all the roster maneuvering that goes on this time of year. Each team will lose one player next June to the new Las Vegas team, so GMs have to take that into consideration as they adjust their rosters. The Hawks can protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, or eight total skaters and one goaltender. The Hawks must protect Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford because they have no-movement clauses in their contracts (Anisimov’s kicks in on July 1). Players with two years or fewer of NHL experience also are exempt, so Artemi Panarin is safe. So if they choose to protect a fourth defenseman, such as Trevor van Riemsdyk, they can’t protect any more forwards. If they leave van Riemsdyk unprotected, they can protect three more forwards, but very well could lose van Riemsdyk to Las Vegas.

Bowman said it’d be “problematic” to dwell too much on the expansion draft a year out, but that it could “tip” a difficult decision one way or the other.

“Everyone’s going to lose one player and only one,” Bowman said. “I think sometimes you can get too worked up about it. We’re no different than every other team. We’ve got to get through that.”

In the meantime, cheap signings such as Richard Panik and Dennis Rasmussen will help flesh out the roster. Highly touted prospects such as Nick Schmaltz and Tyler Motte also will get every chance to make the team out of training camp.

Mark McNeill, a first-rounder in 2011, is on the block for the Hawks. And multiple reports say that Marcus Kruger and his $3.1-million cap hit are being shopped around. The Hawks don’t have a first-round pick in the draft, as they dealt it away in the Andrew Ladd trade. They also traded away promising young players such as Phil Danault and Marko Dano. But the way Bowman sees it, that’s what prospects and picks are for.

“It’d be great to say anyone you draft is going to be a Blackhawk forever, but the situation doesn’t allow that to happen,” Bowman said. “It’s a constant game of maneuvering your assets, whether you use him or trade him to get something to help your team. This draft is no different. We’re looking for the best players. If they’re Blackhawks for life, that’s great. If they help us improve our team over the next five years, that’s great, as well. That’s how you have to do it, otherwise you shortchange yourself.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus