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Chicago Blackhawks fans came into the postseason with hope in their hearts, but after the team was eliminated from the playoffs by the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday night, all that fans were left with were shaving cream cans in their hands and questions about what the future will hold for the team.
Granted, this isn’t a team that is in need of a dire overhaul. With the salary cap rising next year and the team having made the conference finals in four of the past six seasons, the Hawks’ nucleus is still in place, and they will be considered serious contenders for a championship even before they make any offseason moves.
With tinkering rather than rebuilding as the order of the day, what will the Blackhawks end up doing as the offseason begins? We came up with five questions that the team will have to answer between now and the beginning of training camp in September.
Will the Blackhawks Pursue a Second Line Center?
If it seems like the Blackhawks are asked this question every year, it's because they are. Everybody from Dave Bolland to Marcus Kruger has been asked to fill the role, and every player seems to struggle with the weight of the position. Andrew Shaw is more suited to the third line center role, and Michal Handzus probably won't be back next season, so this might finally be the offseason that the Hawks make a trade or a free agent signing to give guys like Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad someone good to skate with.
Will Johnny Oduya be a Blackhawk After the NHL Entry Draft?
Arguably one of the biggest questions facing the Blackhawks is whether or not to bring back defenseman Johnny Oduya next season. He has some great chemistry with Niklas Hjalmarsson on the blue line, but with one year left on a deal paying him $3.375 million, and with a bevy of young defensemen awaiting a shot at the NHL roster for this team, Oduya becomes an asset that could very well be expendable (not to mention one that could net a good-sized return).
Will Restricted Free Agents Smith, Morin, and Raanta be Back?
The Blackhawks don’t have many restricted free agents to negotiate with this time around, with guys like Brandon Bollig and Andrew Shaw already extended, but they do have a couple of intriguing decisions to make. Jeremy Morin is a player that Joel Quenneville hasn’t shown much trust in, and the Hawks could try to move him at the NHL Entry Draft to try to get extra selections.
Antti Raanta may be a guy coveted by other teams looking for goaltending help, and the Hawks have already invested a serious sum of money into Corey Crawford as the team’s long-term goaltender, so it isn’t exactly an open path to the starter’s job for the young Finn.
Finally, there’s the matter of Ben Smith, whose versatility has been a big help to the Blackhawks. With guys like Joakim Nordstrom and Mark McNeill potentially looking to make the jump to the NHL this year, will Smith be looked at as an asset worth keeping, or one that can be jettisoned to make room for fresh talent?
What Kind of Extensions Will Kane and Toews Seek?
On July 1st, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will be able to sign contract extensions with the Blackhawks, as their five-year contracts are set to expire at the end of the 2014-15 season. With the salary cap going up and with two Stanley Cup championships under their belts, the duo will be in line for a serious pay raise, but will they be willing to sign for a bit less money with Chicago so that the team can continue to bolster their depth, or will they ask for the huge sums that they could command on the open market?
Will Teuvo Teravainen Have a Chance to Make the Opening Night Roster?
Out of all the Blackhawks’ prospects, none inspires the kind of excitement that Teuvo Teravainen does. He is a player with the potential to be a star in the NHL, and the Hawks have shown a reluctance to rush him along. Will he be given a chance to make the NHL roster out of training camp, or will the team say definitively that he will begin the campaign with the Rockford IceHogs?