Salary cap headaches for talented, expensive teams
When the Chicago Blackhawks raise the banner to honor their
first Stanley Cup championship since 1961, Dustin Byfuglien won’t
be there to soak in the moment and celebrate with his
The Blackhawks aren’t his teammates anymore.
On Saturday night, the man who scored the decisive goal in five
of the Blackhawks’ 16 postseason wins will be in Florida, wearing
the uniform of the Atlanta Thrashers – a team that finished 10th in
the Eastern Conference.
The Blackhawks knew while making their long-awaited run to the
title that win or lose, the chase would come at a cost.
And it did.
Byfuglien, along with several other key players, had to be sent
away or let go in the days following the championship because they
couldn’t all fit under the salary cap.
Sure the Blackhawks still have top forwards Patrick Kane and
Jonathan Toews, and because of that duo the club remains a
contender to win it all again. But secondary players such as
Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, John Madden, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel,
Colin Fraser, and Andrew Ladd – who all made their mark in the
victory – are gone.
With a team salary cap number of $59.4 million for this season,
only so many players can stick around. That meant that even goalie
Antti Niemi, who earned all 16 wins in the playoffs with a 2.65
goals-against average, had to be let go after he was awarded a
$2.75 million salary in arbitration. He earned $826,875 in his
first full NHL season.
The raise was too much for the Blackhawks to take, so Niemi is
with the San Jose Sharks – the only team in the Western Conference
that finished with more points than Chicago. The Sharks were
eliminated by Niemi and the Blackhawks in a conference finals
There hasn’t been a repeat NHL champion since the Detroit Red
Wings in 1997 and 1998. Now entering the sixth season of the
league’s salary cap era, dynasty-type teams might become even more
of a distant memory.
”We’re not in favor of or opposed to dynasty teams,” NHL
Commissioner Gary Bettman said. ”What the Blackhawks did, very
successfully, is they made a conscious decision last season to make
a series of moves to get themselves in a position to be
extraordinarily competitive. But they understood when they made
those moves there were cap consequences.
”The benefit of the system we have is all teams can be
competitive, can afford to be competitive. That to us is the most
important thing because obviously there are going to be differences
as to how well run teams are and how successful they are in putting
their teams together.”
Chicago waited nearly 50 years for the Cup to return. Surely the
Windy City and Blackhawks fans don’t want to hear how good it is
for the other 29 NHL cities to have a good chance to win at their
”Our fans, no matter what team they root for, know their team
has a shot to make the playoffs and maybe win it all which is
perhaps why in the last five seasons all but two clubs have made
the playoffs,” Bettman said.
The Blackhawks got over the hurt of seeing teammates leave and
they say they are more than ready to take another shot at what is
often called the toughest trophy to win.
”You get that hunger again pumping through your blood,” said
Duncan Keith, last season’s Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s top
defenseman. ”We want to win every year. That’s the goal in our
organization. Detroit would be the best example. Over the last 10
years, they’ve been a solid team and you could make a legitimate
case that they would be Cup contenders every year. That’s what we
want to be like. We don’t want to be a one-year team and that’s
It’s not just the Blackhawks who found themselves in a
salary-cap nightmare. Just look at the New Jersey Devils, who spent
a good chunk of the summer trying to keep star forward Ilya
After a third straight first-round playoff exit, the Devils
couldn’t afford to let Kovalchuk get away in free agency. New
Jersey traded several pieces to Atlanta to pry him away midseason
and wanted him to stay. Lengthy negotiations produced a landmark
17-year, $102 million deal that right away revealed salary cap
The NHL noticed that, too, and rejected the contract that
would’ve paid Kovalchuk only $550,000 in each of the final six
years – saying the deal was constructed to circumvent the salary
cap. The Devils and Kovalchuk’s camp reworked it and came out with
a legal 15-year contract worth $100 million.
Not only did it leave the Devils $3 million over the cap for the
season, and with hard decisions to make, New Jersey was then
stripped of a third-round draft pick this year and a first-rounder
in one of the next four seasons, and was fined $3 million by the
The only consolation was that the fine won’t be charged against
”I think it’s a little harsh,” said Devils star forward Zach
Parise, whose contract is up after this season. ”When you get
smacked with a penalty and you lose draft picks, you lose a
first-round pick, that’s big.
New Jersey temporarily got under the cap before Wednesday’s
deadline by placing defenseman Bryce Salvador (concussion) on
long-term injured reserve and designating defenseman Anssi Salmela
(knee) as an injured, non-roster player.
The Devils are carrying only 20 players on the roster that
allows for 23, and will need to make more decisions down the road.
Familiar names such as captain Jamie Langenbrunner, Dainius Zubrus,
Colin White, and Travis Zajac, could be on the move because of
”It’s a tough situation,” Zajac said. ”You’ve got friends on
the team that could get traded. It’s a business like anything else,
and it’s going to happen.
”I can’t worry about that.”