On Friday, The Blackhawks made the first move in a preseason that figures to have a great deal of transaction activity.
But it was not Nikolai 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 GM Dale Tallon before the season begins. Many still believe that Khabibulin will be moved before the Blackhawks drop the puck on a new season October 10 at Madison Square Garden.
With Khabibulin no longer the number-one goalie after the signing of Cristobal Huet, the netminder would be a logical salary dump, 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, speculation that Khabibulin was halfway out the door was not unfounded.
What will happen with Khabubulin awaits to be seen, but it seems as though the Blackhawks will move into 2008-09 without a notable veteran presence or a solid top-line center. As of now, the venerable Dave Bolland has moved up to the second line, filling Lang’s former role as linemate to Dustin Byfuglien and Martin Havlat.
Bolland had a respectable campaign last year, tallying 17 points in 39 games, mostly 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 fellow Czech Lang at center.
Taking over the roster spot vacated by Lang’s trade seems to be rising star in the Blackhawks’ system Petr Kontiola. The Fin had five assists in 12 games for the NHL team last year, and had a fantastic season for Rockford, the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate. Many believe that he is a potential top-line NHL talent.
Going into training camp, it appears that the spot is Kontiola’s to lose—but many in the Blackhawks’ circle believe that 2007 third-round pick Akim Aliu will make the team.
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. Now that there is 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, and giving some of those players a chance to play.