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Blackhawks should be a legit Cup contender next season, even with salary cap purge

Jul 31, 2010, 12:10 PM EDT

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blackhawksback.jpgWith all the Chicago Blackhawks Doomsday talk in the air, it’s easy to forget that the team still has some major talent in place. In fact, if the team is able to retain goalie Antti Niemi, you could make the argument that the core is still intact.

Seriously, just take a look at who’s left. At the forward position, they still have their very best players: Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp remain while a few leftover support players include Troy Brouwer and Dave Bolland. Their defense features important pieces such as Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and even highly paid Brian Campbell. The team needs to either retain Niemi or find a suitable replacement, but if they indeed ship Cristobal Huet to the minors they might be out of the salary cap abyss.

NHL.com looks at how the Blackhawks still might be one of the Cup favorites, even with all those changes.

Jack Skille doesn’t have to go far to hear about there being “no way” the Chicago Blackhawks will defend their Stanley Cup title after saying goodbye to multiple key players this summer.

All he has to do is answer his phone.

“I’ve got my own buddy saying that to me,” said the 23-year old Skille, a winger who will get his first shot to play a full NHL season in Chicago after being drafted in 2005. “I’ve got my best buddy since I was 6-years-old saying that to me. He’s like, ‘Nah, there’s no way. There’s no way.’ I get into arguments with him. I’ll say ‘Yeah … we will.’”

That’s because Skille, like his soon-to-be Hawks teammates, genuinely believes there is still enough talent left behind to remain one of the NHL’s top teams again. Judging by the noise level in the Chicago Hilton Friday during the opening ceremony of this year’s Blackhawks fan convention, many fans also are believers.

When you look at the list of players who were jettisoned, most were depth guys. Sure, Dustin Byfuglien rocked it on the first line with Kane and Toews during the playoffs, but he shuffled around the lineup plenty of times over the last couple years. Kris Versteeg possesses some solid offensive talent, but can you really say he was an essential player to Chicago?

Losing players such as John Madden will hurt, but it more or less makes the Blackhawks a “normal” NHL team instead of an embarrassment of riches. They won’t be able to bludgeon you with their absurd depth anymore, but Chicago still brings plenty to the table as a top-end team too.

In other words, don’t count out the ‘Hawks next season.

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