It’s a good thing that the Chicago Blackhawks were Stanley Cup champions this season… because it was probably their best chance to win it for some time.
Ever since ex-GM Dale Tallon threw silly money at Marian Hossa last July, we’ve anticipated that the upcoming off-season would be the ‘Summer of Hell’ in the Windy City.
Well here we are – less than two weeks before the draft, with the frenzy shortly thereafter.
As it sits right now, the Blackhawks have roughly $57.6 million tied into 14 players (according to CapGeek.com). The salary cap for the 2010/11 season is expected to be in the $57.9 to $58.5 million range, so that doesn’t leave much room to tie up some important pieces!
Then a bomb dropped on this situation after Wednesday’s Stanley Cup victory, when it was discovered that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews maximized their bonuses this season. What does that mean? At least $4 million of that will be counted against the cap. There’s another hole to dig out of.
GM Stan Bowman has his hands full over the next couple weeks, as he’ll have to make some very tough decisions.
If you count the bonuses from Kane and Toews, their payroll for next year rises above $61 million – and that doesn’t include the extensions that will be needed to sign Antti Niemi and Niklas Hjalmarsson, who are restricted free agents come July 1. Furthermore, youngsters Colin Fraser, Bryan Bickell, and Jordan Hendry are restricted, too. (Andrew Ladd is also an RFA, but I expect the ‘Hawks to let him go or find a suitor via a trade.)
Assuming it takes about $6-7 million (combined) to bring just those five back, the Blackhawks have about $10 million to shed. This is where Bowman will truly be tested as a young general manager.
Cristobal Huet, who eats up $5.625 million, could be sent down to AHL Rockford where that money wouldn’t count against the cap. That’s easier said than done, though; who would want to pay that much cash to an AHLer? The fact that he has two years left on that lucrative deal makes him almost untradeable.
If they ultimately decide to keep Huet, some of the great depth Chicago possessed this year must be sacrificed. Names like Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg, and even Dustin Byfuglien have been brought up as likely trade bait.
Together, those three nearly make up for the $10 million Bowman will presumably need to cut. When you think about it, losing that trio would basically be getting rid of a whole offensive line. But you gotta do what you gotta do!
‘Hawks fans may be throwing up their arms saying ‘Why Sharp; why Byfuglien?’ Well, Dave Bolland isn’t going anywhere; he can be a quality two-way second-line center for years to come. And the options after these are few and far between.
Plus, think about the package the Blackhawks could receive for Sharp and/or Byfuglien? Sharp would be coveted by more GM’s than not, and Byfuglien’s stock is at an all-time high. You’re talking first-round pick(s) and prospects combined. They’d hate to lose both, but the return would be pretty darn good.
As for Versteeg, I think it’s inevitable that he’ll be one of the odd men out in this equation.
Other options for cutting costs would include buying out the last year of Brent Sopel’s $2.3 million pact; or finding a sucker to take on Hossa’s or Brian Campbell’s long-term deals (which is highly unlikely). I cannot see the ‘Hawks parting ways with Brent Seabrook, who is entering the last year in his contract.
One of the few positives out of this situation is that the Blackhawks won the Cup, and will now be getting a lot more building blocks for the future to surround the current stars. It would be a lot tougher parting with this talent if they had come up short of 16 wins.
If I’m a Blackhawks fan, I’m not buying a jersey anytime soon unless it has the number 19, 88, or 2 on the back. Bowman and his staff have a lot of cleaning up to do this summer, and who knows where it will start or end…
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.