CHICAGO – The Blackhawks had hoped to spend Wednesday in Phoenix for Game 7.
Instead, Hawks players arrived at the United Center to clean out their lockers.
“We set out to win the Stanley Cup, and we didn’t do that this year,” said Hawks general manager Stan Bowman, who met with each player. “So it’s a disappointment, clearly.”
At least a few of the players likely will not be back when the Hawks reconvene for training camp in September. Six veterans are set to become unrestricted free agents, and some changes could be in store after a first-round playoff exit for the second consecutive season.
None of the half-dozen players with expiring contracts is part of the Hawks’ core group. Veteran forwards Andrew Brunette, Jamal Mayers and Brendan Morrison are set to become free agents, as are defensemen Johnny Oduya, Sami Lepisto and Sean O’Donnell.
“We’re not going to bring everybody back,” Bowman said. “We haven’t made the determination which of our unrestricted free agents we’ll try to pursue or let go. That’s the process we’re going to undergo over the next few weeks here.”
The Hawks are expected to have about $6.8 million in salary-cap space when the free agent signing period begins July 1. Although Bowman said it was too early to rule anything out, he hinted that the Hawks might try to add muscle without sacrificing too much skill.
“Then, you can kind of spread your scoring out on three different lines with some physicality,” said Bowman, who praised injured forward Daniel Carcillo for his role on the team. “I think that’s an element that we’re also looking at. It’s not easy to find a rugged player that can play with high-end players. They’ve got to have pretty good hockey sense.”
It doesn’t take too much hockey sense to realize that the Hawks feature one of the most talented cores in the NHL with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook all signed through at least the next three seasons. The group was a big reason why the Hawks won a Stanley Cup title in 2010 and scored 248 goals this season, which was only one shy of Vancouver for No. 1 in the conference.
However, questions emerged about the Hawks’ style of play after defensive-minded teams such as St. Louis, Nashville and Phoenix advanced to the conference semifinals.
Bowman said a major shift in philosophy was unnecessary for the Hawks.
“Two years ago, we won the Cup, and it was two unheralded goaltenders in [Michael] Leighton and [Antti] Niemi that go to the Finals, and everyone is saying, ‘Well, I guess goaltending is not that important. You don’t need to have supposed great goaltending to win the Cup,’ ”
Bowman said. “Here we are two years later, and it’s shifting back the other way.
“You can’t be too reactive to what other teams do. You have to look at your strengths, and you have to play to what your strengths are.”
If all goes well, maybe those strengths will lead the Hawks past Round 1 next year.
Hawks bits: Toews (Canada) and Kane (U.S.) said they declined invitations to participate in this summer’s World Championships because they wanted to be rested for next season. Sharp accepted an invitation to play for Team Canada. … Bowman said he expected injured forward Marian Hossa to be healthy for next season. … Brunette, 38, said he did not expect to re-sign with the Hawks and was not certain whether he retire after 16 NHL seasons.
Six Blackhawks veterans will become unrestricted free agents this summer, but the team’s core players remain under contract heading into the 2012-13 season. The Hawks are projected to have about $6.8 million in salary-cap space to sign free agents.
Unrestricted free agents (6) • Andrew Brunette • Brendan Morrison • Jamal Mayers • Johnny Oduya • Sean O’Donnell • Sami Lepisto
Restricted free agents (1) • Brandon Bollig
Signed through 2012-13 (5) • Viktor Stalberg • Bryan Bickell • Ray Emery • Marcus Kruger (RFA) • Nick Leddy (RFA)
Signed through 2013-14 (8) • Dave Bolland • Daniel Carcillo • Niklas Hjalmarsson • Corey Crawford • Michael Frolik (RFA) • Jimmy Hayes (RFA) • Andrew Shaw (RFA) • Dylan Olsen (RFA)
Signed through 2014-15 (3) • Patrick Kane • Jonathan Toews • Steve Montador
Signed through 2015-16 (1) • Brent Seabrook
Signed through 2016-17 (1) • Patrick Sharp
Signed through 2020-21 (1) • Marian Hossa
Signed through 2022-23 (1) • Duncan Keith