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Khabby days

Nikolai Khabibulin was 8-6 with a .898 SP and 2.93 GAA in the playoffs before he got injured. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Nikolai Khabibulin was 8-6 with a .898 SP and 2.93 GAA in the playoffs before he got injured. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Chicago Blackhawks and Carolina Hurricanes surprised many by not only making the playoffs, but also advancing to the conference finals. Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon and Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford now face critical decisions this summer, which could change the look of their lineups.

Tallon’s two main concerns are what to do with goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and right winger Martin Havlat, who are both eligible for unrestricted free agency July 1.

Havlat is coming off a three-year contract, which paid him $6 million per season, but it’s believed he’d be willing to re-sign for less money if he could get a long-term deal.

Retaining Khabibulin, however, appears doubtful. The Blackhawks still owe Cristobal Huet another three years and $16.875 million and it is unlikely Tallon will try to dump Huet in favor of re-signing the ‘Bulin Wall.’

Tallon wasted little time in talking contract with Havlat’s agent, speaking with him less than 24 hours after the Blackhawks were eliminated from the playoffs.

He also hopes to re-sign veteran center Sami Pahlsson, whom he acquired from Anaheim at the trade deadline and must make offers to restricted free agents Kris Versteeg, Dave Bolland, Cam Barker, Troy Brouwer and Ben Eager.

Cap space will of course determine which players Tallon retains. With approximately $35 million committed for next season and the salary cap expected to flat-line, Tallon will be left with roughly $20 million to re-sign his key players.

Khabibulin won’t be back as there won’t be a market for Huet with his current salary. And with promising Corey Crawford and Antti Niemi waiting in the wings, there simply isn’t room to retain the veteran Russian goalie.

The pressure will be on Tallon to re-sign Versteeg, Bolland and Barker prior to July 1 to prevent the three from becoming targets for offer sheets from rival clubs.

He must also keep in mind franchise forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will be restricted free agents next summer. Don’t be surprised if Tallon re-signs both to extensions after July 1 this summer. Duncan Keith will also have to be re-signed as well, at significantly more than his current $1.475 cap hit.

Rutherford, meanwhile, has free agent concerns of his own.

Erik Cole, Chad LaRose and Dennis Seidenberg are his notable unrestricted free agents, while Jussi Jokinen, Tuomo Ruutu and Anton Babchuk are restricted free agents.

He’ll also have to keep an eye on next season when goaltender Cam Ward will be a restricted free ageny, while Ray Whitney, Scott Walker, Joe Corvo and Matt Cullen have contracts that run out July 1, 2010.

Rutherford could try to move Frantisek Kaberle and Niclas Wallin to free up cap space, but he’s tried unsuccessfully to move Kaberle, whilst Wallin has previously exercised his no-trade clause to remain in Carolina.

Don’t expect team captain Rod Brind’Amour to call it a career. Despite coming off an injury-ravaged season, Brind’Amour is determined to return. He has two years remaining on his current contract.

Cap space will be more of a concern for Rutherford than for Tallon. With more than $42 million committed for 2009-10, Rutherford has limited cap space to retain his key free agents.

Unless Rutherford can dump salary via trade, buyouts or demotions, Cole – who was re-acquired from Edmonton at the trade deadline – might be the odd man out as the others should be more affordable.

In other rumors:

• A Russian newspaper created a minor stir last week claiming the Montreal Canadiens would not only cut loose team captain Saku Koivu, but would re-sign right winger Alex Kovalev to a $6 million salary and award him the captaincy.
 
The report was dismissed by Kovalev’s agent, who claimed he’d had no contract negotiations yet with Canadiens GM Bob Gainey, but hoped talks would begin when his client returned this coming week from vacation in Russia.

It remains to be seen what will happen with Koivu and Kovalev, but the latter did little last season to merit the captaincy of the Canadiens, let alone a nearly $2 million pay raise.

• The Orange County Register reported Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray admitted he was recently contacted by three rivals looking to lay the groundwork for their off-season plans.

Murray also said not enough time has passed to contact Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne regarding their future plans, but he does intend to speak with them later in June.

Most likely those rival GMs are interested in the status of defenseman Chris Pronger – who might be shopped if Niedermayer decides to return next season – or perhaps goalie J-S Giguere, who lost his starter’s role to Jonas Hiller down the stretch and in the playoffs.

Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.

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