<span class="vcard">Mike Halford</span>

Brent Seabrook

Poll: Will Seabrook re-sign?

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In Chicago, conversation about the cost of keeping the team together never really ends.

Having just come off a summer in which Brandon Saad, Brad Richards, Johnny Oduya and Patrick Sharp all exited due to financial constraints, the ‘Hawks can now begin looking ahead to next July, when another prized player could go unrestricted:

Brent Seabrook.

Seabrook, 30, is heading into the last of a five-year, $29 million deal with a $5.8M cap hit. His resume is loaded — three Stanley Cups, Olympic gold, a ’15 All-Star Game appearance — and he’s coming off a postseason in which he led all defensemen in goals (seven), the same number that Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos potted.

So needless to say, he’d be coveted on the open market.

There are two sides to this discussion. The first is why Seabrook would want to stay in Chicago, and it’s a fairly easy sell — it’s the only team he’s ever known, having been drafted by the ‘Hawks in the first round in ’03. He’s since appeared in over 800 games in a ‘Hawks sweater during his 10-year career, and developed a dynamic pairing with fellow blueliner (and one of his best friends) Duncan Keith.

Seabrook also has, as mentioned above, achieved a boatload of success with the ‘Hawks.

But there are reasons why he’d leave.

Well, one big reason — the money.

Per war-on-ice.com, the ‘Hawks already have close to $60 million committed to 16 players after this season. While there aren’t many other noteworthy contracts on the horizon — Andrew Shaw will require a new deal in ’16-17, Teuvo Teravainen and Marko Dano the year after — there is a question of how much Chicago can pay Seabrook.

Do consider that, a few weeks ago, Calgary gave Mark Giordano — who’s a year older than Seabrook — a six year, $40.5 million extension that carries a $6.75M cap hit. Earlier this summer, TSN speculated that Seabrook “is due to earn at least Dion Phaneuf-type money, in the neighborhood of seven years and $49 million.”

Those are both pretty steep AAVs but, given the dearth of quality UFA defensemen that usually hit the market, they could be in Seabrook’s wheelhouse. Remember that Mike Green got $6M per from Detroit this summer, while Andrej Sekera got $33 million over five years from the Oilers.

If Seabrook doesn’t sign an extension prior to the season starting, you can expect this conversation to pick up steam as the year progresses.

But why wait for that? Let’s vote and discuss now.

Under Pressure: Stan Bowman

Stan Bowman
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Stan Bowman knew there’d be much change to his hockey club this summer and, as a result, much work to be done.

Wonder if he thought there’d be this much, though.

To recap…

Out: Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Brad Richards, Antoine Vermette, Antti Raanta, Kimmo Timonen.

In: Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Trevor Daley, Ryan Garbutt, Corey Tropp, Jeremy Morin, Artemi Panarin, Viktor Tikhonov.

And Bowman isn’t even done yet.

According to war-on-ice.com, the ‘Hawks are nearly $400K over the $71.4 million salary cap, with the likes of ace penalty killer Marcus Kruger and fellow depth checker Joakim Nordstrom still requiring new deals. Kruger’s said he’s willing to sit and wait for an extension and Bowman suggested he’d like to get it signed before training camp, which means the ‘Hawks will have to shed some bucks within the next three weeks or so.

So, how will they do it?

Bryan Bickell, he of the $4 million average annual cap hit — and multiple healthy scratches during the playoffs — has been bandied about as potential trade bait. The club could also try and do something with Kris Versteeg ($2.2M cap hit).

Or maybe Bowman makes a move he doesn’t want to make.

That was the situation earlier this summer with Saad, when the ‘Hawks were forced to move their promising young power forward to Columbus because the dollars didn’t make sense. Remember, Bowman was at one point very adamant he’d get a deal done with Saad — vowing to keep him in Chicago “for years to come” — only to later realize it wasn’t going to work within the budget.

Bowman’s financial pressure isn’t solely about getting under the cap to start the year, either. The ‘Hawks are built to contend, which means there should be some room for potential acquisitions during the season, most notably at the deadline.

Then, there’s the biggest wildcard of all — the Patrick Kane situation.

Unlike the other dilemmas he’s faced, Bowman has virtually zero control over how this one plays out; there’s no timeline for the ongoing police investigation and no clear picture on what would happen should Kane be charged.

All of which makes for a stressful lead-up to the season. Bowman’s got his hands full.

Hawks’ biggest question: What happens with Patrick Kane?

Patrick Kane
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There’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty regarding the future of Patrick Kane.

As it stands today, Kane remains under police investigation for an alleged incident in early August, in which he’s accused of raping a woman at his Buffalo-area home. He hasn’t been charged but, per the Buffalo News, has met with both the Hamburg Police Department and Erie County District Attorney.

Kane also hasn’t spoken publicly or issued a statement since the alleged incident.

That silence, though, hasn’t stopped various entities from cutting ties with the Chicago star. EA Sports dropped him from the cover of the NHL ’16 video game and Kane’s former OHL team, the London Knights, removed his eponymous moniker from its annual training camp routine.

Needless to say, the optics surrounding Kane aren’t good right now.

Which is why the ‘Hawks are facing a difficult set of circumstances less than three weeks out of their own training camp. Publicly, the club has said little about the investigation — “We’re disappointed but hopeful,” club owner Rocky Wirtz said in mid-August, per the Tribune — while the NHL said it was monitoring the situation.

“You can assume we are doing everything we need to be doing from the league’s perspective,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Sun-Times in an email earlier this month.

The situation is filled with unknowns.

It’s unknown if Kane will ever be charged by the Erie County DA and, if he is, when it will happen. It’s unknown if the league will intervene — like it did with the LA Kings during Slava Voynov’s domestic assault incident, suspending the Russian defenseman indefinitely — and it’s unknown if, should Kane be charged, he’d be allowed to continue playing, like Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov was after being charged with assault in 2013.

It’s also unknown if Chicago could — or, would — discipline Kane internally, or what role the NHLPA would play in all of this.

Right now, it’s all speculation until the Blackhawks descend on the University of Notre Dame on Sept. 18 for training camp. By then, the picture should be clearer.

Unless, of course, it isn’t.

Looking to make the leap: Artemi Panarin

Artemi Panarin
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Artemi Panarin was never drafted by an NHL club, and has never played a professional game in North America.

Yet heading into next season, there are expectations for him to be a key contributor… for the defending Stanley Cup champs.

“The real excitement is Panarin,” Chicago GM Stan Bowman said last month, per the Tribune. “He has tons of talent. We’re trying to be patient with the expectations because he’s coming to a new country, learning the language. … There’s going to be a bit of an adjustment there, but he has special ability.”

Panarin, 23, first burst onto the scene at the 2011 World Juniors, when he scored two goals — including the game-winner — in Russia’s memorable gold medal-game comeback (the Russians trailed Canada 3-0 heading into the third period, but went on to win 5-3).

From there, he turned into one of the KHL’s most dynamic scorers, finishing fifth in the league in points last year (62 in 54 games) while potting another 20 in 20 playoff games for eventual Gagarin Cup champs SKA Saint Petersburg.

Not to be outdone, Panarin starred at World Hockey Championships this past spring, scoring 10 points in 10 playoff games to help Russia win silver.

“All the Blackhawks fans are going to absolutely love him, just love watching him,” Viktor Tikhonov, who also made the jump from SKA to the ‘Hawks, told CSN Chicago this summer. “He’s always wanted to come over; he just didn’t know if he was ready.

“And just seeing him and how fast he’s developing, he was one of the best players in the KHL this year. It was the right move for him to make the jump.”

Panarin’s leap will be difficult, however.

He’s not overly big — 5-foot-11, 170 pounds — and, as the ‘Hawks learned last year, simply plunking someone into the lineup doesn’t always yield immediate results. Teuvo Teravainen, the club’s ballyhooed Finnish prospect, struggled to find his niche with the group and spent nearly half the regular season with AHL Rockford.

On that note, it’s worth mentioning that Panarin reportedly has an out clause in his contract, which allows a return to the KHL should he not make the Chicago roster.

That means he’s looking to make the leap — but has a pretty comfy landing spot, should he fall short.

Blue Jackets ’15-16 Outlook

Scott Hartnell
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Columbus’ goal for this year should be simple:

Stay healthy.

Last year, the Blue Jackets led the NHL in man games lost, with 502. That figure derailed what was supposed to be a building block campaign; the year prior, Columbus posted a franchise-high 93 points en route to the first two playoff wins in club history.

While the team isn’t using health issues as an excuse for last year, it does recognize it can’t allow injuries to be so disruptive.

“We need to find better ways to maintain and not have major dips,” head coach Todd Richards said earlier this summer, per NHL.com. “We might have injuries this year, and you’ve got to find ways to stay afloat instead of sinking.”

If they do stay healthy, the Blue Jackets should be a legit playoff contender.

Brandon Saad, acquired in a summer blockbuster from Chicago, will give the team a dynamic, goalscoring power forward up front, presumably to play alongside franchise center Ryan Johansen. Behind those two are a host of capable scorers: Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky, to name a few.

On defense, the picture is murkier.

The club is holding out hope that Ryan Murray, the No. 2 overall pick in 2012, is finally over the health issues that derailed his first two NHL campaigns. The 20-year-old, who has the potential to be a top-pairing d-man, only appeared in 12 games last year, after missing 18 in his rookie campaign.

Outside of Murray, the familiar cast of characters remains: Jack Johnson, David Savard, Fedor Tyutin and Dalton Prout, most notably. The Jackets are counting on that crew to improve internally and possibly get a push from prospects like Dillon Heatherington and Michael Paliotta, the latter acquired from Chicago in the Saad deal.

In goal, there are no questions.

Sergei Bobrovsky enters as the clear-cut No.1, coming off a campaign in which he missed significant time to injury and posted below average numbers (.918 save percentage, 2.68 GAA).

The hope is that Bobrovsky will return to the form that saw him win the Vezina two years ago, and that the skaters in front of him will stay healthy. If both those things happen, Columbus will be knocking on the door of playoff contention, and not a team opponents will want to face should it get in.