’Hawks are on the clock

BRUCE GARRIOCH, Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:22 PM ET

The window of opportunity could close fast on the Blackhawks.

With young star forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and stalwart defenceman Duncan Keith set to become restricted free agents in the off-season, Chicago GM Stan Bowman might have to make a couple of deals by the NHL trade deadline in March to ensure the club has some money in the off-season to pay the star trio while remaining competitive in 2009-10 to make a Stanley Cup run.

Kane and Toews are both going to want more than $5 million (all terms US) a season and Keith isn’t going to be far behind in his demands. Realistically, Chicago will need to free up at least $15 million in cap space to satisfy the trio.

“If they don’t do something, they could be susceptible to an offer sheet on Kane, Toews, Keith, or all three,” said a league executive.

All this has led to some interesting names being dangled as trade possibilities.

Defenceman Brian Campbell, who was offered to the Senators last June for winger Dany Heatley, and his $7.14- million cap hit will be available.

Up front, there could be some less expensive, but highly skilled talent available.

A league executive speculated the Blackhawks are going to either have to move centre Patrick Sharp or winger Kris Versteeg if they want to retain Kane, Toews and Keith.

So Bowman’s mandate could be to win the Cup, but do it without at least one of Campbell, Sharp or Versteeg.

Around the boards

The NHLPA hasn’t hit the self-destruct button, but it sure looks like it’s heading that way. The departure of interim executive director Ian Penny has left many around the league wondering what’s going to happen once the four-man review committee of Chris Chelios, Mark Recchi, Rob Blake and Nicklas Lidstrom completes its findings. “I’d be more worried if it was just Chelios running the review,” said a player. “You’ve got some guys on that committee who are willing to stand up to Chelios.” The players had better hope so. An NHL agent noted yesterday that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his deputy Bill Daly “must be howling” watching the antics taking place in Toronto these days ... The Rangers are trying to move W Christopher Higgins. Talk about a flop on Broadway. Higgins, who has just two assists in 13 games this season, was the key player New York got back from the Canadiens for C Scott Gomez.

Off the glass

With all the talk that W Phil Kessel will make his long-awaited Leafs debut on Tuesday following off-season shoulder surgery comes a warning: “If anybody is expecting him to be a saviour, they’re mistaken,” said a league executive. “He’ll help, (but) he can’t carry the load.” ... This can’t be true: The Barry Trotz era is just about over in Nashville. The Predators were 5-6-1 heading into play last night ... An NHL GM on trying to make a trade: “I’ve talked to a couple of teams and all they’re trying to do is get rid of money. They offer up some big players, but it’s just to clear up cash,” he said ... Wild GM Chuck Fletcher is working the phones trying to make changes. With the club is off to a bad start, Fletcher’s trying to land a scoring forward ... Just wondering: Would Wayne Gretzky pull his memorabilia out of the Hockey Hall of Fame after being rebuffed by the NHL in this ownership battle over the Coyotes? “I don’t think he’d do it. He has too much class,” said one NHL executive. Have a nice Sunday.

No fixed Price

Forget all the talk out of Montreal last week that G Carey Price is going to be traded. He will be the last one to go. League sources insist Habs GM Bob Gainey believes the 22-year-old is still the club’s goaltender of the future. Sure, Price has struggled and could probably use a fresh start, but Gainey is more likely to bend on G Jaroslav Halak. Several teams looking for goaltending help — including Chicago — have inquired about Halak, but Gainey won’t consider moving him until Price fixes his game./p>

Leafs at a loss

Some NHL insiders are wondering if coach Ron Wilson is going to last the season. Sure, he’s armed with a long-term deal and has a close relationship with GM Brian Burke, but many wonder if he’ll still be with Toronto after his commitment to the U.S. Olympic team ends in February at the Olympics. “Nobody thinks that’s going to last. Somebody is going to lose their job there if the Leafs keep playing the way they are. You can’t keep losing and have the status quo,” said a league executive. Wilson was hired before Burke officially arrived in Toronto, but the former San Jose bench boss would have gotten the job anyway. “(Burke) inherited Wilson, but he didn’t inherit him,” said the executive.

Not a sitting duck

Sources say Anaheim GM Bob Murray is itching to make a deal with his team off to a rough start (4-6-1 heading into play last night). Murray would like to add some scoring depth. C Todd Marchant is likely available, but there’s not much of a market for role players these days. The guy everybody wants from Anaheim is W Bobby Ryan and he’s not going anywhere.


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