Are these the final days of the Blackhawks’ “core” group?

This image was the wallpaper on my computer for what seemed like a decade.


Seems like there’s been a never-ending list of different players with big moments that have contributed to the incredible run that the Chicago Blackhawks have been on in the last eight seasons.

But the five players you see pictured above have been the foundation upon which this franchise turnaround was built upon: Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, and Patricks Sharp and Kane.

Take a look at that picture again. In fact, you’ll probably want to head to the Blackhawks website and download the wallpaper yourself in the next few days. Because as crucial as these five players have been — often depicted as the “core” of the team — they’re likely in their final week as teammates.

They’ve given us some incredible moments together, haven’t they?

These five players were the ones who combined to deliver Kane’s dramatic shorthanded goal against the Nashville Predators in Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in 2010. All five players were also on the ice two years later as Sharp scored a game-tying goal with six seconds left in Game 4 of that year’s playoff series with the then-Phoenix Coyotes.

But a familiar nemesis is going to greet Chicago after this season, no matter how it ends, and that foe is the salary cap. It was this same cap that led to the exodus of 2010 favorites Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, among others, and also resulted in the trades of Michal Frolik and 2013 Stanley Cup hero Dave Bolland following the team’s Cup win that year.

It’s Sharp who appears to be the least likely one to return to the team next season, as he’s the oldest player of the bunch at 33 years old and his current contract with an annual cap hit of $5.9 million has only two years remaining on it.

Toews and Kane will get substantial raises next season — and rightfully so — after signing deals that will keep them under Chicago’s control until 2023. Keith is locked up for the same term as part of a 13-year, $72-million contract (about $5.54 million annually) that looks better with each time Keith steps one of the league’s premier players.

Sharp’s departure appears all but guaranteed, although Seabrook’s future is less certain. He has just one year left on a deal that will cost the Hawks $5.8 million against the cap in 2015-16. At the age of 30, though, it’s unsure if the Hawks will commit to another deal for Seabrook that could harm their financial future following this summer. Unless Seabrook elects to take a significant hometown discount, it’s to imagine him making anything less than $7 million annually on his next deal.

The Hawks currently have a $76 million payroll for next season, and that’s well over the projected salary cap of $71 million with only 14 players included in that number. Players from this team will have to be moved in the offseason, and it’s not hard to see why Sharp and Seabrook are atop any lists of potential cap casualties.

So savor this group, Blackhawks fans, especially the pair who may not be around much longer. It’s been these five players that we’ve been watching the start of the 2007-08 season and it’s these five players that have led the team back to its third Cup appearance in six seasons.

And there’s only one way to properly end their time together.




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