PHILADELPHIA — Even while Stan Bowman was securing three of his own players for the next two seasons, the Blackhawks general manager was chasing a bigger prize Friday as the NHL draft weekend began.
Bowman and the Hawks fell short — for now — in their bid to secure a No. 2 center when Ryan Kesler was traded from the Canucks to the Ducks.
According to Canucks GM Jim Benning, the Hawks "were in it right until the end." Kesler, who had 25 goals and 18 assists for the Canucks last season and plays the kind of game that likely would have meshed with Hawks right winger Patrick Kane on the second line, had a no-movement clause in his contract and was able to dictate his landing spot.
"Anaheim and Chicago were my two teams," the veteran said.
Now, the Ducks are officially his team after they sent center Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Svisa and first- and third-round picks in the draft to the Canucks for Kesler and a third-rounder.
Meanwhile, the Hawks' quest continues.
"There are a lot of options we have as we look over the next couple of weeks," said Bowman, who declined to comment directly on talks involving Kesler moments after the Hawks traded up to select center Nick Schmaltz with the 20th overall pick in Friday's first round at Wells Fargo Center.
"There's free agency coming up, there are trades and there are a lot of things that can change between now and October. I've been pretty consistent saying that we believe in our team and we believe in the options we have from within. If there are other ways to improve the team through a trade or free agency, we'll look at that too."
When the NHL announced Friday that the salary cap for the 2014-15 season was $69 million, the Hawks were handcuffed further in their building of the upcoming season's roster. They have 22 players under contract with salary-cap hits totaling nearly $500,000 above the limit.
One source said the Hawks are listening to offers for veteran winger Patrick Sharp, who led the team in scoring last season and has three years remaining on a contract that carries a hit of $5.9 million per season.
Also coming into play are current negotiations on extensions for star forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane that will kick in after the 2014-15 campaign. Bowman said "the discussions are ongoing" before adding "we're definitely going to get them re-signed."
Even though the cap likely will rise in 2015 primarily because of a lucrative Canadian TV contract, if Toews and Kane command $10 million or so per season the Hawks may need room under the cap that only trading a core player can provide.
"There are a lot of things that change over the years," Bowman said. "We don't know what the cap is going to be. I always think it's better to try to stay in the moment. It's my job to plan out.
"We have ideas of what our team is going to look like down the road, but we're focused really on where we are as a team and we have a great group. The core group of our team has accomplished an awful lot over the last five years. (But) there are a lot of ways to improve your team leading into next year and we're going to keep working at it."
Bowman had better luck with three of his own Friday, inking cap-friendly two-year extensions with restricted free agents Ben Smith, Antti Raanta and Jeremy Morin.
Smith's deal is reportedly worth $3 million (with an average cap hit of $1.5 million) while Raanta signed for $1.5 million ($750,000 cap hit) and Morin for $1.6 million ($800,000 hit).
Smith was a regular on the fourth line last season, finishing with 14 goals and 12 assists in 75 regular-season games. Raanta served as the backup to goalie Corey Crawford and went 13-5-4 with a 2.71 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage in 25 appearances as a rookie.
As far as Morin, the 23-year-old winger who still is trying to earn a regular roster spot, he had five goals and six assists in 24 regular-season games.
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