Recent reports that the NHL's salary cap will be increased by $5 million to around $64 million for the 2011-12 season has Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman in a different mindset this offseason.
"We should know the definitive (cap) number very soon (but) it’s going to be in that range," Bowman said Wednesday. "It's certainly going up from where it was ($59.4 million). We’re not in the salary-cap crunch that we were in. We’re able to obviously do some different things and we’re not as stuck as we were a year ago."
The summer following the Hawks' Stanley Cup championship in 2010 was marked by the departures of 10 players from that that title-winning team as Bowman battled the salary cap. But things are different this time around.
"It’s a nice change, to be honest," said Bowman, who is in Minnesota for this weekend's NHL Draft. "We’re not trying to deal players to get to the cap. We have room to add players. Having that additional flexibility is going to help us not only in the summer but during the season when there may be opportunities to pick up players. But you have to have cap space to do that.
"We’re certainly going to approach the offseason with that optimism and excitement that we can bring in some new players. Once we find out where we’re at and get our (restricted free agents) signed we’ll know exactly where we're at."
Several key members of the Hawks are RFA's, including forwards Troy Brouwer, Michael Frolik, Viktor Stalberg and defenseman Chris Campoli.
"We are going to focus on that come next week," Bowman said of free agents. "At this point, we’re focusing on the draft. We work all year to try to have a good draft and be prepared and ready to go. We may speak to agents over the next few days but in terms of in-depth negotiations, I don’t expect to do that. There's enough time. These guys don’t really have to be signed by any specific date. We’ll get to them in short order."
Bowman said some decisions on who will return have been made, but wouldn't reveal them Wednesday.
"We’ve made some pretty good decisions on our own but we’re not going to be announcing them now," Bowman said. "We’ve got an idea. There are going to be changes. We’re not bringing everybody back. You have to bring in some new players and we’re going to look to do that.
"I certainly think we’re going to have more stability than we did a year ago when we had to bring in a lot of new players but that was for a different reason. That was salary-cap related. There will be some new faces coming in. It’s always good to bring in some new faces and some new looks in there. That’s what we’ll find out over the next 10 days."
One player who won't be joining the Hawks is veteran winger Jaromir Jagr. The former NHL star has been playing in Russia but has indicated he could return to the league. If he does, Bowman said it won't be with the Hawks.
"I have not spoken to him or his agent," Bowman said of Jagr, who is reported to be interested in joining either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Detroit Red Wings. "He’s obviously had a storied career. I saw him play over in the World Championships. He can still play hockey, for sure. He’s a talented guy. I think our focus right now is on some of our younger players getting opportunities and we haven't pursued Jagr."
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