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Blackhawks actively shopping defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson

Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsstakes ice during Chicago Blackhawks 3-1 loss Dallas Stars Thursday February 23 2012 United Center. | TOM

Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson takes the ice during the Chicago Blackhawks 3-1 loss to the Dallas Stars Thursday February 23, 2012 at the United Center. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 23, 2012 8:01AM



As general manager Stan Bowman executes various plans for the future during this weekend’s NHL draft in Pittsburgh, the more pressing concern for the Blackhawks is improving the now.

Multiple league sources say to do that, the Hawks are shopping players once considered part of the future.

There is no rebuilding process for Bowman to manage — only a team that will begin next season with Stanley Cup hopes again and requires changes after falling well short of expectations the last two years.

In other words, the pressure is on Bowman again to bolster the team correctly through trades, free agency or both.

League sources told the Sun-Times that the Hawks are actively shopping defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who has two years left on a four-year contract with a $3.5 million salary-cap hit.

A league source also said the Hawks are looking for takers for defenseman Steve Montador, who has three years left on a four-year deal carrying a $2.75 million cap hit.

At just 25, Hjalmarsson should generate interest, especially for teams looking for shot-blocking, stay-at-home types. The re-signing of veteran Johnny Oduya and the emergence of Nick Leddy has made Hjalmarsson — whom the Hawks chose to retain over goalie Antti Niemi two years ago — more expendable, although his defensive prowess is coveted.

Montador’s value isn’t nearly as high, especially considering he’s 32, recovering from a concussion and had an up-and-down first season with the Hawks. A source indicated that if Montador (modified no-trade clause) can’t be moved, the Hawks may be open to burying his contract in the minors, as they have for Cristobal Huet and Rostislav Olesz.

Moving Hjalmarsson and Montador would give the Hawks considerably more money to pursue notable free agents or acquire a big piece from another team or just more pieces overall, which may be their goal.

With the collective bargaining agreement expiring, some top-tier players destined to hit the free-agent market, perennial contenders enjoying salary-cap space and other teams on the rise, it’s widely thought that plenty of moves will be made before, during and after this weekend’s draft and leading into free agency July 1.

Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter and New Jersey Devils winger Zach Parise should be the best free agents available, while the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Rick Nash and the Anaheim Ducks’ Bobby Ryan are two standouts available via trades but with large contracts. There are others, too.

‘‘It will be a very fun draft this year,’’ Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon said. ‘‘There will be some movement. There’s some things out there. It’s player-run right now. Some of these top players want to maybe move addresses. That might dictate what happens more aggressively than normally.’’

Bowman maintains he’s ready for everything.

‘‘I enjoy this time of year,’’ he said.

Last year at the draft, the Hawks traded defenseman Brian Campbell and forward Troy Brouwer before being very active July 1. This year is different. They already have signed Oduya, Jamal Mayers, Daniel Carcillo and restricted free agents Brandon Bollig and Ben Smith.

‘‘We’re a little bit ahead of it compared to previous years,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘I know there a lot of teams around the league looking to find players, so I think it’s kind of dealing from a position of strength if we choose to make moves. . . . It’s possible we’ll make moves, but we don’t have to.’’

Bowman said rising prices for free agents wouldn’t ‘‘necessarily [be] a deterrent’’ but might lead to other moves to account for those players, which he said is ‘‘‘not bad, either, because you’re dealing from a position of strength.

‘‘We’re not going to be afraid to improve our team, and that’s one way to do it is through the free-agent market,’’ he said. ‘‘Another way is through trades, so I think those are all avenues we’re going to pursue.’’



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