Time For Blackhawks To Look To Future

With few exceptions, next year's Hawks will look much the same

It felt sort of inevitable, didn't it? All series long, as the Blackhawks fought valiantly to keep pace with the deeper, stronger, more skilled Red Wings, you could feel the end in sight. Chicago couldn't keep that pace forever; hockey, with its bursts of excitement and shifts in momentum, has a way of pouring especially hard once it begins, finally, to rain.

So the Hawks were eliminated on Wednesday night, but not without an overtime fight. And really, it's all gravy. As young as this team is, no one could have expected a deep run into the NHL playoffs. No one could have expected such a consistent and enjoyable regular season. No one could have foretold the resurgence in fan energy and ticket sales and media coverage. People care again. The rest is just a bonus.

Which is why the Blackhawks have to keep the good times rolling. Few fans will be upset with a loss to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals, but a few years of down hockey won't be fun for anyone. Fortunately, much of 2008-09's core is back: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp aren't going anywhere, and the Hawks are set at the top two defensive spots. The major offseason resigning issue will be unrestricted free agent Martin Havlat, the Hawks' best playmaker. At age 27 and already among the highest-paid Blackhawks, will Havlat be affordable? Will the Hawks have what it takes to keep him in Chicago? If not, where do they turn to for Havlat's production?

The Hawks will face a similar situation with goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, also an unrestricted free agent. Was Huet's brilliant performance on Thursday night enough to ensure his future in Chicago? Huet is signed through 2011-12 at $5.65 million. The Hawks don't have much of a choice: Huet will likely be Chicago's clear No. 1 goaltender next year.

But besides those two issues, the build of next season's roster will look pretty similar to 2008-09's. We all know how well that went. There's no reason to expect the Hawks won't get even better, and soon.

Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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