Five questions facing Blackhawks for 2016-17

The dust still may be settling on the Blackhawks' season after their loss to the Blues in Game 7 of the Western Conference quarterfinals on Monday night, but it's never too early to take a look at five pressing matters for the 2016-17 campaign.

What's the deal with the Hawks and the NHL salary cap and what does it mean for their roster?

If it's the offseason, it must be time to start worrying about the cap. Here's a stunner: The Hawks are again in trouble when it comes to room under the cap, which is projected to be around $74 million if the NHLPA agrees to exercise its escalator clause.

While Artemi Panarin's stellar play was a big key to the Hawks' success in the regular season, it will cost the Hawks because the Russian rookie achieved bonuses of $2.75 million that will count against the cap.

That will mean the Hawks won't be in the market much to re-sign any of their unrestricted free agents, including lineup mainstay Andrew Ladd, and also will look to jettison salary. Ladd, who helped the Hawks capture the Cup in 2010, was acquired from the Jets on Feb. 25 and fit right in down the stretch and in the playoffs. Despite expressing a desire to stay with the Hawks, Ladd won't be affordable enough for that to happen. Fellow free agents Dale Weise, Tomas Fleischmann, Brandon Mashinter, Christian Ehrhoff and Michal Rozsival aren't likely to be back either.

Richard Panik and Dennis Rasmussen are restricted free agents who could return if the prices are right.

Whatever happens, general manager Stan Bowman doesn't appear to be too worried about the situation, saying earlier this month that, "we always find a way to make (the cap) work in the summertime."

What is Andrew Shaw's future with the Hawks?

It's not bright, that's for sure.

The forward who helped the Hawks win two championships is a restricted free agent and no doubt will be seeking a raise from his deal that paid him $2.5 million in 2015-16. With the Hawks cash-strapped, they won't be too keen on handing out a big contract. Add in Shaw's recent incident of using a homophobic slur directed at officials during Game 4 that earned him a one-game suspension from the NHL and the Hawks could be looking to cut ties with the veteran.

Shaw, who apologized for using the slur and remains a popular figure with teammates, said last week that he was living in the "here and now" and not worrying about a new contract.

"Let that work itself out this summer," Shaw said.

It will be worked out, but probably won't result in Shaw wearing the Indian head sweater next season.

Which young players could crack the lineup next season?

With turnover inevitable, several prospects will get chances to win jobs in training camp. Winger Kyle Baun appears to have a near-lock on a spot after signing a one-way, two-year deal that carries a friendly cap hit of $625,000. Ryan Hartman has gotten a taste of the NHL and plays a gritty style that could help ease the pain of the probable departure of Shaw. Other forwards to watch are Tyler Motte, Vincent Hinostroza and Tanner Kero.

On the back end, many consider Ville Pokka to be the organization's top defensive prospect, but the team is especially high on Swede Gustav Forsling.

What area most needs to be bolstered?

The Blues exposed the Hawks' lack of depth defensively during the first round and you can be assured coach Joel Quenneville will press Bowman on shoring up the blue line. After Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk, the cupboard is pretty bare. The fix needs to be more than a couple of veteran free-agent signings on the cheap or the hope that a prospect or two will surprise and win spots. The Hawks need a No. 4 defenseman so van Riemsdyk can slide into the third pairing, where he is better suited.

That means Bowman could be looking to trade for an upper-tier defenseman, and that will prove costly. Teams will be looking square at skill players with bright futures in return. That could put high-ceiling Finn Teuvo Teravainen in play, a scenario almost unheard of a season ago.

One possible free agent to watch is former Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell, who might be willing to agree to a major drop in pay for a chance to win and also move back to Chicago, where he still maintains a home.

What will the Hawks do with Bryan Bickell?

Bickell with his albatross of a $4 million per season contract has tied Bowman's hands when it comes to roster maneuvers. Not anywhere near the impact player he was in helping the Hawks win the 2013 Cup, Bickell does not appear to have a future with the team. The winger spent much of the season in Rockford and with one year left on his deal he might be attractive enough for another team to take a chance on a resurgence. Getting that cap hit off the books would solve a lot of Bowman's money issues so look for him to be aggressive again in trying to trade Bickell at the NHL draft in late June.

ckuc@tribpub.com

Twitter @ChrisKuc

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