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Blackhawks’ salary cap overage will be millions lower this season

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Chicago should have less dead money on the books next summer.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

One of the more frustrating aspects of the Blackhawks’ salary cap woes the past few years has been the presence of salary cap overages. In the NHL, you’re allowed to go over the cap to pay out performance bonuses, but the amount that you go over is tacked onto next year’s books as a penalty.

With the big entry-level contract for Artemi Panarin leading the way, the Blackhawks have had millions in cap overages the past two seasons. This season, Chicago lost $3.558 million cap space to bonuses paid the previous season.

The team knew what it was getting into with those bonus-laden contracts and planned appropriately to stay cap compliant, but there were consequences. Does Stan Bowman still trade Teuvo Teravainen with Bryan Bickell in the spring of 2016, which cleared roughly $4 million in cap space, if he doesn’t have a $3 million-plus overage on the books for the next season? Those are the questions you can wonder about.

Next offseason, however, this won’t be the same kind of issue for the Blackhawks. There’s no big multi-million bonus waiting for a young star like Panarin anymore. The team is over the cap, so it will pay out an overage, but it will be much smaller than this season.

Here are the Blackhawks’ potential bonuses, provided by The Athletic and Cap Friendly.

  • Patrick Sharp has already earned his $200,000 bonus for 10 games played
  • Alex DeBrincat can earn $182,500 if he plays in 68 games
  • Jan Rutta can earn up to $425,000 for Schedule A bonuses
  • Nick Schmaltz can earn up to $650,000 for Schedule A bonuses

So Sharp’s $200,000 is locked in and DeBrincat seems likely to stick for his $182,500. That’s $382,500 right there.

Rutta’s bonuses “can be triggered by top-4 defenseman ice time (average or cumulative, min. 42 games), 10 goals, 25 assists, 40 points, 0.49 points per game (min. 42), top-3 defenseman plus/minus rating (min. 42), top-2 defenseman blocked shots (min. 42), NHL All-Rookie Team, NHL All-Star game and NHL All-Star game MVP.”

Looking at where he is now, these seem attainable. He’s third on the team in ice time and tied for second in plus-minus, so those two would cover him. He’s also got a decent shot at the point numbers. Basically, as long as he keeps playing a lot and the wheels don’t fall off, Rutta probably gets the full $425,000.

Schmaltz might have a tougher time maxing out. His bonuses “include top-6 forwards ice time (cumulative or average, min. 42 games), 20 goals, 35 assists, 60 points, top-3 forward plus/minus rating (min. 42), 0.73 points per game (min. 42), NHL All-Star game and NHL All-Star MVP.”

He’s fourth among forwards in ice time, tied for first in plus-minus, and close in point production at 0.69 points per game. He seems likely to crack at least $425,000, and could conceivably get the full $650,000.

So running the basic math there, we’re looking at a probable overage of $1.232 million, with a potential max bonus of $1.458 million.

Either way, it’s at least $2 million less than this season’s overage, and that’s cap space the Blackhawks will surely love to have back. If the salary cap sees a significant increase as well, then the team could be looking at some rare flexibility next summer. Right now, including the projected overage, the team has around $67 million committed to 14 players, including Marian Hossa.