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Chicago Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon working on next season

CHICAGO - Chicago Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon is wasting little time in trying to keep the team together after a strong run in the post-season.

The Blackhawks, who hadn't been in the playoffs since 2002, were knocked out of the Western Conference final by Detroit on Wednesday night.

On Friday, Tallon said he spoke with Allan Walsh, the agent for Martin Havlat, about retaining the forward who could become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

"Marty has stated that he wants to stay here and we want Marty back. We'll just keep working at it and see if we can get it done," Tallon said.

"We're going to address the free-agent situation here and put the best possible team on the ice again next," he added.

Havlat is one of four unrestricted free agents for Chicago along with goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, centre Samuel Pahlsson and defenceman Matt Walker.

The 28-year-old Havlat just completed a three-year contract that paid US$6 million per season. He had 29 goals and 48 assists in the regular season for a career-high and team-leading 77 points. He also led Chicago with 15 points - five goals and 10 assists - in the post-season run.

"I would like to stay here and we'll see how it goes," Havlat said. "We just finished the playoffs and we didn't talk during that time. We already had some discussions today and yesterday and hopefully it's going to work out."

Following shoulder surgery last summer, Havlat bounced back with the most-consistent season of his eight-year NHL career and missed one regular-season game.

He was a force in the playoffs until absorbing a crushing hit from Detroit defenceman Niklas Kronwall in Game 3 of the conference finals, won by the Red Wings in five games. Havlat played just under eight minutes in Game 4, then sat out Game 5.

The 36-year-old Khabibulin just finished a four-year deal that paid $6.75 million annually. Despite a nagging groin injury, he split the team's regular-season goaltending load with Cristobal Huet and turned in his best season with the Blackhawks, going 25-8-7 with a 2.33 goals-against average.

He was the starter in playoff series wins over Calgary and Vancouver and was in goal for every minute of the post-season run until Game 3 against Detroit when he left after two periods with a lower-body injury. He sat out the final two games.

"Nik was great, so we'll talk," Tallon said. "We're not going to stop working here just because we've had a modicum of success."

But Tallon reported nothing specific on talks with Khabibulin's agent, Jay Grossman. When asked if the odds of re-signing Khabibulin were slim, Tallon said, "I wouldn't say anything until it's a fact."

Khabibulin, who had been put on waivers in the pre-season but stuck with the Hawks when no deal could be made to move him, said he's also like to remain in Chicago.

"This year obviously has been a lot of fun," Khabibulin said. "I'd like to stay here."

Tallon would also like to keep Pahlsson, 31, who was acquired from Anaheim on March 4. Pahlsson earned $1.4 million last season.

The NHL's salary cap, set at $56.7 million last season, may be lowered for 2009-10.

"We're dealing with every possibility with what the cap number might be. Whatever it is, we'll have the best possible team at that number," Tallon said.

Young stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have contracts that expire after next season.

"The key for us is to keep the nucleus of this team together for the longest possible time," Tallon said. "That's our goal."


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