The Blackhawks made the first move in a preseason that figures to have a great deal of transaction activity on Friday.
But it was not Nik Khabibulin packing up his goalie gear and heading to Los Angeles, as many had speculated. Rather center Robert Lang was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a second round draft pick in 2009. Around that time the Blackhawks will be using that pick, the 37 year old Lang will become a free agent.
The Blackhawks are by most estimates over the salary cap going into the season, so another move might still have to be made by Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon before the season begins. Many still believe that goalie Nikolai Khabibulin will be moved before the Blackhawks drop the puck on a new season October 10th at Madison Square Garden.
With Khabibulin no longer the number one goalie after the signing of Crist Huet, the logical salary dump would be the netminder, especially considering the play of Corey Crawford in Khabibulin and Patrick Lalime’s stead last year. With Khabibulin and Huet together taking up 12 million dollars of cap space this year, such speculation Khabibulin was halfway out the door was not unfounded.
What happens with Khabubulin awaits to be seen, but the Blackhawks move on without a notable veteran presence and a very solid top line center for the 2008-2009. As of now, the venerable Dave Bolland has moved up to the second line, filling Lang’s former role as linemate of Dustin Byfuglien and Martin Havlat.
Bolland had a respectable campaign last year, tallying 17 points in 39 games, most on the fourth line. A gifted passer, Bolland is a very adequate fill in, but will likely need time to mesh with his right wing, Havlat, who had great chemistry with his center and fellow Czech Lang.
Taking over the roster spot vacated by Lang’s trade seems to be rising star in the Blackhawks’ system Petr Kontiola. The Fin had 5 assists in 12 games for the NHL team last year and had a fantastic season in Rockford, the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate. Many believe that he is a top line NHL talent.
Going into training camp it appears that the spot is Kontiola’s but many in the Blackhawks’ circle believe that 2007 Third round pick Akim Aliu will make the team out of camp. Also take into account that Troy Brouwer, who many believe could score 100 points in the NHL if he ever becomes merely a half decent skater, and Michael Blunden, who had 37 points and 83 penalty minutes last season in Rockford, both have the credentials to make the team and fit the role of power forward Coach Denny Savard looks for on his fourth line. All that makes this move of Lang to Montreal not only surprising but also incredibly intriguing for the Blackhawks.
With loads of talent in the system the ‘Hawks have many talented players to fill the roster spots, but not enough roster spots to fill with talented players. With another spot open, there is a new window for young players like Brouwer and Aliu to break into the NHL through. With all of the contributions Lang made as a veteran to help out younger players, the best contribution he might have ever made was being traded, giving some of those players a chance to play.