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Blackhawks put stamp on Alex Vlasic as member of new core with long-term extension

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Ever since Chicago Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson declared a full-scale rebuild, he's been extremely protective of his long-term cap space, and rightfully so. He's wanted to maintain that flexibility and save it for the new core, whenever those pieces are identified.

"The salary cap is unforgiving," Davidson said on Saturday. "Once you give that space up, you can't get it back. It's really hard to move contracts that are no longer desirable to you. We don't want to get into that business. We'd like to be responsible with it and thread that needle as best we can, while balancing short and long term objectives."

On Thursday, Davidson handed out the first long-term contract of his Chicago tenure to Alex Vlasic, which put a stamp on the 22-year-old defenseman as a member of the next core. The two sides agreed to a six-year deal at a cap hit of $4.6 million; his contract includes a 10-team no-trade list in Years 5 and 6.

It's a well-deserved contract for Vlasic, who was easily the breakout player of the season for the Blackhawks. No player on the team logged more 5-on-5 minutes than him at 1,333:36, which makes this stat incredibly impressive: When Vlasic was on the ice at 5-on-5, the Blackhawks had a -1 goal differential, per Natural Stat Trick. When he wasn't on the ice, they had a -83 differential.

He was that good.

"Alex made enormous strides this year and proved he is a legitimate top-four defenseman in the NHL," Davidson said in a statement. "In his first full season in the NHL, Alex established himself as an important piece of our young core, and we’re excited to have him with us for the next six years."

The deal, from a bigger-picture perspective, is a win-win for both the player and the team. Vlasic gets long-term security in his hometown, and Chicago locks up a core member at a favorable cap hit, which should look even better over time as the salary cap increases.

Vlasic, who was a pending restricted free agent, probably could have chosen to sign a shorter-term deal before earning his big pay-day after that, if he really wanted to break the bank. But that route likely would have led to some uncertainty about his own future in Chicago because the Blackhawks are surely setting money aside for Connor Bedard, other core pieces that are going to need to be locked up in the coming years, and any potential big-fish free-agent signings or acquisitions via trade. There's only so much money to go around.

By signing a long-term extension on a team-friendly number, Vlasic gets stability and a respectable raise, and he probably won't ever have to worry about his place on the team. He'll also be 29 by the time his six-year deal expires, which sets him up for another long-term contract if he continues to deliver.

You have to wonder, too, if Vlasic growing up a diehard Blackhawks fan in Chicago played a part in his thinking from this perspective: He saw the Blackhawks win three Stanley Cups with Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and a few others playing on team-friendly long-term contracts. None of them cared that eventually they outperformed their cap hits. They are legends in Chicago forever because they brought multiple titles to the city.

Vlasic appears to be committed to being part of a potential special run with the Blackhawks as well.

"I would love to be here as long as possible," Vlasic said on Saturday in his exit interview. "It's amazing being able to play for my hometown team, the same city I grew up in, so I'm not really looking to go anywhere else. I want to be here as long as possible and he knows that. I think a lot of people would assume that, so yeah it's been great so far this year and hopefully it'll continue in the future."

It will, and Chicago should be excited about it.

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