Blackhawks facing immediate salary cap problem
As the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate winning their first Stanley Cup championship since 1961 their fans should take a long, loving look at their current roster because it could look considerably different next season.
It may be considered bad form to “rain on the parade” by mentioning the Blackhawks cap problems this summer so soon after they won the Cup, but it’s been a steady topic of conversation since mid-season and is much more relevant now that the offseason is here.
Of course it’s not unusual for the rosters of Cup champions to change during the offseason, especially in today’s salary cap world. But for the Blackhawks the cap has become their worst enemy, which could potentially hamper their hopes of successfully defending their championship.
The Blackhawks enter the offseason with $57.598 million committed to 14 players for next season. With the cap expected to rise to $58.8 million that’ll leave about $1.2 million to fill out the remainder of the roster.
It doesn’t take a salary cap expert to determine the Blackhawks must pare down their payroll.
Their unrestricted free agents (UFAs) include John Madden, Kim Johnsson, Nick Boynton and Adam Burish, while their restricted free agents (RFAs) include Antti Niemi, Niklas Hjarlmarsson, Andrew Ladd and Ben Eager.
It’s highly unlikely those UFA players will be back. Niemi and Hjarlmarsson will likely seek significant raises, while Ladd and Eager are also due a bump in pay.
So the obvious question becomes, “Which players will Blackhawks management cut or move?”
Forget about franchise players Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith going anywhere. Two-way center Dave Bolland will stay put, as will Keith’s defense partner Brent Seabrook.
Forward Marian Hossa just finished the first year of a contract which expires in 2021 and pays him $5.275 million per season. So even if management wanted to move him that lengthy deal won’t attract any takers.
Checking forwards Tomas Kopecky and Troy Brouwer each earn less than $1.3 million next season so they’ll likely be retained.
Defenseman Brian Campbell is often mentioned as a potential trade candidate but his $7.142 million per season contract (which has six more seasons to go) and limited “no-trade” clause mean he’s not going anywhere.
The most obvious candidate is Cristobal Huet, who lost the starting goaltender's job to Niemi and has two more years at $5.625 million per left on his contract.
Given Huet’s struggles in goal and that expensive contract, a trade seems remote and it’s expected he’ll be demoted to the minors. He’ll still be paid his NHL salary but it won’t count against the cap. Failing that, they’d have to consider a buyout, which would free up over $3.7 million next season but still leave over $1.875 million per season against their cap for the next four years.
Defenseman Brent Sopel has one more year at a cap hit of $2.33 million remaining and could also be a candidate for a trade, demotion or buyout.
Trading or demoting Huet and Sopel would free up nearly $9 million in cap space but it still wouldn’t be enough.
That means having to move a couple of key roster players, which could bite deeply into their depth.
Forwards Patrick Sharp ($3.9 million), Kris Versteeg ($3.083 million) and even playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien ($3 million) have been mentioned in recent months as potential trade candidates.
Bear in mind management doesn’t just have to free up cap space for next season, but must also look toward the end of 2011, when Seabrook and Byfuglien become restricted free agents.
One has to believe they’d prefer to retain Seabrook, but Byfuglien – assuming he’s not dealt this summer or next – might be more affordable.
Moving the combined salaries of Sharp and Versteeg along with Huet and Sopel would free up around $16 million, which should be enough to re-sign those key RFAs, find some affordable replacements for their UFAs, and make room for any youngsters who crack the roster next season.
The toll it could take on the Blackhawks team chemistry however would be significant.
They could adjust to moving Huet and Sopel, and could perhaps find affordable replacements for Madden, Boynton and Burish, but Sharp and Versteeg would not be easily replaced.
It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks do, but changes are definitely coming to their roster this summer.