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SportsMonday: The Big-Time Blackhawks

Let's hear it for the Blackhawks! No matter what may be happening in players' personal lives, and it seems this morning that there is exactly as much confirmed information out there now about Patrick Sharp et al as there was before the weekend, they are going for it on the ice.

To do so, they are picking up veteran contracts, i.e., going well above the salary cap. But it is clear Blackhawk ownership is willing to increase expenses in pursuit of another championship. Too bad we can't say the same about other teams in town.

In the aftermath of Patrick Kane's broken collar bone and placement on the long term injury list, the Hawks received something like $6 million in cap relief. And they used it first to trade for Philadelphia Flyer defenseman Kimmo Timonen. Then they really took a chance and grabbed Phoenix Coyotes forward Antoine Vermette. They made both deals without giving up anyone from their current roster.

And because NHL contracts (and the cap) only cover the regular season, Kane could return to the team as presently constituted during the playoffs. That seems unlikely with his injury, which usually requires at least 12 weeks of rehabilitation time. But hockey players break rehab rules all the time, i.e., what takes athletes in other sports extended periods of time takes hockey players considerably less.

To do all of this, the Hawks had to trash their next draft and do a little potential damage to the one after that. Timonen cost a second-round pick in the next talent disbursal process and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2016. Vermette was considerably more expensive. The Hawks gave up their No. 1 pick later this year and tossed in blue-line prospect Klas Dahlbeck.

The Hawks have figured out something about prospects that Oakland Athletics' general manager Billy Beane determined long, long ago. And that is that in the vast majority of situations, prospects are most valuable early in their tenures. Smart teams trade them before they start having the difficulties that 95 percent of prospects end up having.

It was knowledge Beane used most recently last season to pick up Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs for super-prospect shortstop Addison Reed. It didn't result in a championship for the A's, but it gave them a better chance. And that is all a general manager can do.

Now, Timonen and Vermette are far from sure bets. Timonen will be 40 soon and has missed the entire season due to concerns about blood clots. But he apparently is ready to take the ice tonight in Chicago against the Carolina Hurricanes.

As for Vermette, well, no less of an authority than Jonathan Toews extolled his ability to play two-way hockey and win face-offs (so far this year he has won 56 percent of his draws, among the top 10 in the National Hockey League).

But with big new contracts kicking in for Kane and Toews next year and a restrictive salary cap looming, the Hawks are going to make big changes to their roster after this season. Those changes will involve infusing many more young players into the mix in the 2015-16 campaign and beyond.

Both Timonen and Vermette have contracts that run out at the end of this season. They probably won't be here for the next time around. But if they play as well as they are capable, they just might enable the Hawks to win a playoff series or two, just enough to keep the season going until Kane returns. And then the real fun begins.


Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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