Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman didn't exactly give a strong answer regarding what's next for the team after trading Patrick Sharp on Friday, but he didn't need to. It's obvious that more moves are on the way for the Hawks this summer as they pivot into a new era constrained by massive cap hits to their two best players.
Shedding salary has been a core theme for the Blackhawks since their latest Stanley Cup run, but Bowman's efforts haven't put the team in a position to enter next season quite yet. The trade of Sharp and defenseman Stephen Johns for defenseman Trevor Daley and forward Ryan Garbutt saves the team $2.5 million (assuming Johns was making the roster), but that won't be enough to cure what ails the Hawks' financial situation.
Chicago currently has 13 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies under contract for next season with a total salary cap hit of $70.4 million, which gives the team just under $1 million in space. Those numbers include the $3.3 million cap hit for Daley and the $900,000 cap hit for Garbutt, who had half of his salary retained by Dallas in the deal, but not Marcus Kruger or a seventh defenseman.
Kruger will be signing a long-term deal for at least $2 million annually, and Bowman has given every indication he plans to find room for the penalty-killing Swede. The seventh defenseman will likely be a cheap alternative after the addition of Daley, though we shouldn't rule out the return of Johnny Oduya.
That means the Blackhawks need to make more trades this summer, even though Sharp and Brandon Saad have already been shown the door. The team not only needs to shed salary, but already has 13 forwards under contract without Kruger and Artemi Panarin on the roster. The trade candidates are the same they've always been:
- Bryan Bickell, $4 million cap hit. Please. Someone take him. Anyone. He's big! He loves dogs! You'll love him.
- Kris Versteeg, $2.2 million cap hit. Probably could actually return something in a deal.
- Andrew Shaw, $2 million cap hit. The most valuable piece here, exploring a trade would be worthwhile if the price is right. The problem (or blessing, depending on your perspective) is that the coaching staff absolutely loves him, which means he could end up playing a huge role next season.
- Brent Se- lol no not really. He'll be wearing the "A" next season.
- Jeremy Morin, $800,000 cap hit. There won't be much savings here, but Morin is probably a goner unless they carry 14 forwards.
In an ideal world, the Blackhawks figure out how to shed Bickell's entire salary without taking any money back, although that's looking increasingly unlikely after the Sharp deal. That leaves us with a few scenarios to finish off the summer, with the asking prices from Kruger and Oduya being key variables here. If they want too much, there's no way the veteran defenseman returns next season.
Option 1: Trade Bickell but retain salary, re-sign Krugs, goodbye Oduya
This is the most simple, and most likely, solution. The Hawks probably can't trade Bickell's whole salary, but what if they offer to retain $1.5 million or so? He looks a lot more appealing at $2.5 million, and Chicago presumably would be fine taking back a seventh-round pick or something minor.
Those savings would give the team nearly $3.5 million to re-sign Kruger and add a cheap defenseman, which would complete the roster. Saying goodbye to Oduya after having him wait out this situation would be unfortunate, but Daley is a significant addition and there are surely still other solid deals waiting for the Swedish d-man.
Option 2: Trade Versteeg, re-sign Krugs, goodbye Oduya
A trade of Versteeg would free up $2.2 million and give the team nearly $3.2 million in cap space. That would allow Bowman to offer up to $2.6 million to Kruger while leaving $575,000, the league's minimum salary, for a seventh defenseman. If the Hawks are confident in Daley to be a top-four defenseman next season, they also might be fine with TVR and David Rundblad as a third pairing. Toss in a cheap defenseman as the emergency seventh guy and the roster would be set even with Bickell still around. The Hawks probably prefer to keep Versteeg around next season, though, so I would imagine they'd push for Option 1 instead.
Option 3: Trade Bickell and Versteeg/Shaw, re-sign Krugs and Oduya
Another possibility is that the Hawks could try to clear Bickell and another player's salaries in order to re-sign both Kruger and Oduya. The problem is that they probably couldn't clear more than $5 million, and at that point you're asking Oduya to take a significant pay cut in order to stay in Chicago.
Maybe that happens, especially given that patience Oduya has shown already this summer, but it's not something to bank on. Again, in an ideal world, you move Bickell's whole salary, then maybe shedding Versteeg as well would give you enough to re-sign Kruger and Oduya. An ideal world wouldn't have involved trading Sharp and Saad, though, so we're well past that.
The Blackhawks have tried hard to be balanced this summer, adding a number of key veterans in addition to a potential building block in Marko Dano. The team's inability to trade Bickell's contract has become a major obstacle, but Bowman has worked hard to move around the pieces and put the team in a position to ice an impressive lineup even if the overpriced winger's whole salary cannot be moved. A quick look at the team's roster for next season shows some risk in unproven players, but one that still generally holds up among the best in the league.
Toews and Hossa will still lead the first line. Kane has an intriguing new linemate in Artem Anisimov. Dano and Teuvo Teravainen are both very exciting young players. The big Russian additions, Panarin and Viktor Tikhonov, may be wild cards, but the potential is undeniable there, too. A top-heavy defensive corps is nothing new.
There are fair questions all around, from who will be the first line left winger to whether Daley's ugly possession numbers are a legit issue. If both Bickell and another forward are traded, the team's forward depth won't look quite as impressive either. Bowman has made his big moves for the summer and come out with a good-looking team, though, which might be worth appreciating when you consider (a) apparently nobody wanted any of our contracts (b) Saad left the team between a rock and a $36 million contract. That he's maneuvered through those things and now just needs to make one more deal to get Kruger back, with the current roster, was no easy task.
The big deals, the roster-transforming ones, appear to be out of the way, but the Blackhawks aren't done yet. They can't be. At least one more trade has to be on the way with Kruger still hanging in the balance, and it's possible even more happens to bring back Oduya. The end of the road appears near, however, and now the biggest surprises are hopefully out of the way. A quality team still remains in Chicago, even if it's not quite the one we anticipated a few weeks ago. Just give us a Bickell trade and a Kruger re-signing and bring on October.
Oh yeah, and one more thing: Thanks Patrick. Good luck in Dallas.