The Chicago Blackhawks got Artemi Panarin signed for the next two years, which is fantastic. The team is also back in salary cap trouble for the upcoming summer, which I would describe with a different word.
Now that the Hawks have their 25-year-old superstar winger signed to a $6 million cap hit for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, the question is how the team will actually fit that number into its salary cap structure. The Blackhawks have battled up against the upper limit for years, and just agreed to add another huge hit to the books for next season.
So what exactly has GM Stan Bowman gotten the franchise into? Panarin is an elite player who needed to be re-signed, but now the Blackhawks are already almost at the salary cap for next season without a complete roster. Here’s what’s going to go into Chicago’s next capocolypse.
The players under contract
With Panarin inking a two-year, $12 million deal, the Blackhawks currently have 16 players — 10 forwards, five defensemen and one goaltender — signed for next season at a combined cap hit of $67.55 million, per Cap Friendly.
Here’s that group:
|Trevor van Riemsdyk||$825,000|
Now, 16 players for $67.55 million is a lot, but this would not necessarily be an impossible situation to maneuver. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks will also have a large salary cap overage due to performance bonuses once again next season, and that’ll push the team’s total hit even higher.
The cap overage
The Blackhawks’ cap overage could be close to $4 million next season. The team has bonuses to Panarin, Brian Campbell, Michal Kempny, and Gustav Forsling that’ll add up to millions over what the team is allowed to pay in cap hits this season. Per NHL rules, all the bonus money that puts the team over the cap is transferred to next season’s cap in the form of an overage.
Given their cap situation, pretty much every bonus dollar from this season will be on the 2017-18 cap.
Like last season, Panarin could earn $2.575 million in bonuses if he continues to put up big numbers. He needs to finish top 10 among NHL forwards in points, goals, assists, or points per game in order to trigger a Schedule B bonus that’s worth $1.725 million. If he doesn’t get that, he’ll only make $850,000 in bonuses, but that’s not all Chicago will pay.
The team also has a $750,000 bonus for Campbell, a $157,500 bonus for Forsling, and up to $437,500 in bonuses for Kempny.
In a “best-case scenario” where Panarin and Kempny don’t get all their bonuses, the Blackhawks’ cap overage could be closer to $2 million. But if Panarin keeps up his current pace (which the team kinda needs), that Schedule B bonus will quickly put the tab closer to $4 million.
So add $2-4 million to the $67.55 million currently on the Blackhawks’ books for next season, and you’re actually in the $69.55 million to $71.55 million range in terms of current commitments.
All of this with a salary cap that’s currently set at $73 million, and isn’t expected to go up more than $1-2 million for next season.
The numbers don’t add up
As you might imagine, having so much money on the books for next season isn’t going to work out. The team literally cannot add six players to its roster if it only has like $2 million in cap space to work with. They’re going to have to move a player (or players) off the roster in order to make this whole plan feasible (especially if they want to carry 23 players like they are now ... but let’s not even get to that because it’ll probably be a non-option).
Let’s say the salary cap increases by $1.5 million for next season (which might be optimistic), so the Blackhawks have a $74.5 million upper limit to work with. If you figure Panarin gets all his bonuses, Chicago will only have around $3 million in cap space to fill out those remaining six players on the roster.
So right there, the team will have to start shedding money. Here are the obvious options if you figure that Panarin, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Marian Hossa are off limits for various reasons:
- Brent Seabrook, $6.875 million cap hit through 2023-24 (NMC)
- Corey Crawford, $6 million cap hit through 2019-20 (NMC, M-NTC)
- Artem Anisimov: $4.55 million cap hit through 2020-21 (NMC)
- Niklas Hjalmarsson: $4.1 million cap hit through 2018-19 (NMC, M-NTC)
- Marcus Kruger: $3.08 million through 2018-19
The no-movement and no-trade clauses, not to mention the expansion draft, obviously complicate matters. You’d need to convince a player to accept a deal, which limits options and hurts leverage in a situation where teams already know the Blackhawks will be desperate. It’s also hard to know who the team will lose to Vegas — is it going someone like Kruger, or a cheaper player like Ville Pokka or Ryan Hartman?
The good thing, however, is that the team has several options to clear up space, as you can see, which will make it harder for teams to corner them into a lopsided deal.
If the Blackhawks moved Seabrook’s entire salary via trade, they would have nearly $10 million in cap space to fill out seven players on the roster (including Seabrook’s replacement). This could work depending on the trade return. They could sign RFAs Richard Panik, Dennis Rasmussen, Pokka, and Kempny to affordable deals that probably wouldn’t add up to much more than $5 million. That would leave them another roughly $5 million to sign one more forward, one more defenseman, and a backup goalie.
Then again, you’d potentially be going into next season with Keith, Hjalmarsson, Forsling, Pokka, Kempny, TVR, and Player X (Campbell back on another cheap deal?) as your defense. We’d need to see the young guys take a huge leap for that to see like a remotely good idea, but it would be one way to keep Crawford and the forward depth. You’d also get out of the backend of Seabrook’s deal, which probably won’t be so fun.
As you can see based on the numbers, there are alternatives here, though. They could move Kruger and Hjalmarsson (who has a partial no-trade clause), which would net even more savings than moving just Seabrook. Maybe they deal Seabrook AND Kruger, or maybe this is when the team really does deal Crawford, even though nobody really wants that anymore.
Just moving Kruger probably wouldn’t be enough, though, unless the team is dealt a very fortunate set of circumstances. If Panarin misses his Schedule B bonus and the cap goes up enough, the team could conceivably have more than $5 million in cap space entering the offseason. If the team then moved Kruger, it’d have over $8 million to add seven players. Ideal? No, but it’s possible the team could maneuver that to retain everyone else next season.
Things haven’t always gone the Blackhawks’ way when it comes to the salary cap, though, so I wouldn’t bank on good fortune here. More likely than not, moving Kruger alone won’t be enough to salvage the team’s cap situation.
And no matter what, whether it’s Kruger, Seabrook, or something we haven’t brought up, moves are going to need to happen. The roster currently on the books has no chance of slipping below the cap. There’s at least one too many big money players for a team with $21 million tied up in its top two, and somebody is going to be the odd man out. A hole was always going to open up, either by Panarin’s departure or his re-signing forcing someone else out, but now we know it won’t be the Russian superstar.
The goal of keeping Panarin is checked off the list. Bowman just needs to figure out how to construct the rest of the team around his newly signed star.