Even before the official word broke on what the NHL's salary cap would be for the 2014-15 season, there were a few question about what members of the Chicago Blackhawks would return in the upcoming campaign for another crack at a Stanley Cup title. A few names were mentioned, though nothing tangible seems to have happened in trade talks. With the official number coming out at $69 million, in addition to the impending extensions for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the Hawks are looking at unloading at least one currently rostered player in the coming weeks.
Such a possibility was completely solidified with the Hawks' addition of Brad Richards on a one-year, $2 million deal, as well as the various re-signings of Ben Smith, Antti Raanta, Jeremy Morin, and Peter Regin. With Richards now in the fold, having been signed on the first day of free agency, the Hawks stand $2,216,795 above the salary cap. They have time to get back down, but there's no question it's going to result in the departure of at least one player.
Names mentioned as potential trade candidates include the unlikely, in Patrick Sharp, the somewhat likely, in Nick Leddy, and the more likely in Johnny Oduya, Michal Rozsival, and Kris Versteeg. Throw Bryan Bickell's name in the ring as well. One or more of those guys could very well be gone by the end of the month.
Patrick Sharp was mentioned as a guy being shopped prior to the draft, though his agent came out and denied those reports. He's making $5.9 million for the next three seasons, so that would alleviate a major portion of the cap for the Hawks, while certainly bringing back a strong return. However, as an offensive weapon that led the team in goals last year, is Sharp really a guy the Hawks want to deal? Perhaps, if the return blows Stan Bowman away.
Nick Leddy only has one year left on his deal at $2.7 million per. There seem to be two schools of thought with what the club actually has in Leddy. Some view him as a potentially elite offensive defenseman, while others wonder if he's already shown everything he's going to. There's no doubt he brings the offensive touch from the blue line, when he has the freedom to do so, but could the Hawks get the same type of production from a kid like Adam Clendening?
More favorable moves, from a fan perspective, would come in any of Oduya, Rozsival, or Versteeg. Oduya's cap hit is $3.375 million, which would help them to get under that $69 million threshold. Rozsival is at $2.2 million for next year, meaning additional money would have to be cut somewhere. Both carry limited no-trade clauses in their respective contracts as well. While trading Oduya would leave the Blackhawks down a handsome Lenny Kravitz lookalike on their blue line, they could likely afford to deal either and replace them with younger blue liners, if they can find a taker (especially for Rozsival).
With Brandon Bollig now departed to the barren wasteland that is the Calgary Flames organization, fan hate has shifted (as it already was) toward Kris Versteeg, who is coming off of an absolutely miserable postseason. The Blackhawks are only on the hook for a $2.2 million cap hit for the forward, though, and would have to unload additional pieces. Call me sentimental, but I wouldn't hate seeing a season from Versteeg with a summer to get completely healthy. He clearly wasn't so last year. Nonetheless, he's not safe. Bryan Bickell appears to be safe, but given his penchant for traveling through the regular season on autopilot before turning it on in the playoffs, the team could seek to unload his $4 million cap hit for the next three years.
It will certainly be interesting to see how Stan Bowman approaches this cap situation in the coming weeks. The Blackhawks are obviously in a position where they have the depth to make a move and remain a top contender, so it's just a matter of time before we see some wheeling and dealing take place. With the dust from the free agency "frenzy" now having settled, things could be set in motion real soon.