The Chicago Blackhawks have a lot to figure out in the offseason, and that means planning early to be ready for various scenarios. There are a lot of variables at play, and the front office needs to be prepared to deal with whatever the world throws at it.
Much of the Blackhawks’ roster for the 2017-18 season is already in place with expensive contracts, but one key factor that’s still undecided is the team’s salary cap overage.
A salary cap overage is a penalty incurred by an NHL team when its performance bonus payout earned over the course of the season is higher than its remaining year-end salary cap space. When that happens, the difference in cap hit is rolled over onto the team’s books for the upcoming season.
Last season, Blackhawks players earned $3.11 million in performance bonuses and the team had almost no remaining cap space, so it was slapped with a $3.07 million overage for the 2016-17 season. Marcus Kruger eats up almost an identical amount of cap space as the current overage.
But what about next season? The Blackhawks once again have several players on bonus-laden contracts, and with the team near the salary cap, that means another cap overage is a sure thing. The only hope is that it’ll end up being far less costly than this season’s penalty.
Artemi Panarin: $850,000 in Schedule A bonuses, $1.725 million in Schedule B bonuses
In the second year of his entry-level contract, Panarin once again has loads of bonus money available to him. As a rookie, he maxed out his bonuses at $2.575 million, and he could match that again with a big finish down the stretch.
The Schedule A bonuses are essentially guaranteed at this point. He’ll earn $212,500 apiece for each bonus reached, up to a max of $850,000. Those bonuses include 20 goals, 35 assists, 60 points, 0.73 points per game, and finishing top six among Blackhawks forwards in ice time or top three in plus-minus.
He’s already got 18 goals, 29 assists, and 47 points in 54 games, which comes out to 0.87 points per game. He’s also second among forwards in ATOI and first on the team in plus-minus. So assuming he keeps up this pace, the $850,000 in Schedule A bonuses is a lock.
The big $1.725 million Schedule B bonus is much less of a sure thing. Panarin can earn that bonus by doing one of these things: top 10 in the league in points, points per game, goals, or assists; top five in voting for the Selke, Rocket Richard, or Hart Trophies; winning the Conn Smythe Trophy or being voted onto the first or second postseason NHL All-Star teams.
Last season, Panarin got the $1.725 million bonus by finishing eighth among NHL forwards in points with 77. It’s not clear he’ll be able to do that again, however.
Panarin is currently 29th in goals, 17th in assists, tied for 13th in points, and tied for 25th in points per game among NHL forwards. He’s also unlikely to finish top five in any of the major awards. So unless he turns up his offensive production over the final 28 games of the season, which is totally possible, the Blackhawks may steer clear of this bonus.
That would obviously be huge news for the team. A difference of $1.725 million is nothing to sneeze at, especially when there are other bonuses on the books.
Brian Campbell: $750,000 in games played bonuses
The Blackhawks convinced Campbell to sign a team-friendly deal with a $1.5 million base salary partially by giving him $750,000 in very easy to earn bonuses. All that money was triggered simply by appearing in 10 games, which happened quite early in the season. So this $750,000 bonus has already been triggered.
Michal Kempny: $225,000 in games played bonuses, $212,500 in Schedule A bonuses
Kempny already earned his games played bonuses, like Campbell, by appearing in 10 games. The defenseman got $25,000 for playing in five games, and another $200,000 for playing in 10 games, per The Athletic. He can earn another $212,500 via a Schedule A bonus by recording 10 goals, 25 assists, or 0.49 points per game, or by finishing top four among Blackhawks defensemen in average or total ice time. That seems unlikely, though, given he’s only got two goals and five assists in 36 games this season. He’s also seventh in ATOI and sixth in overall ice time among d-men, so it probably won’t happen there, either.
Gustav Forsling: $157,500 in games played bonuses
Forsling earns $31,500 each for playing in 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 NHL games this season. He’s already earned $94,500 by playing in 35 games, and if he plays in 25 of the Blackhawks’ final 28 games, he’ll get all $157,500.
Nick Schmaltz: $350,000 in Schedule A bonuses
The former first-round pick can earn up to $350,000 in Schedule A bonuses with the same parameters as Panarin: 20 goals, 35 assists, 60 points, 0.73 points per game, and finishing top six among Blackhawks forwards in ice time or top three in plus-minus. However, Schmaltz is unlikely to meet any of those markers, so he’s likely to go without any bonuses this season.
Vinnie Hinostroza, Tanner Kero: $257,500 in games played bonuses
Both Hinostroza and Kero had games played bonuses that required them to play in all 82 regular season games. Neither player has done that, so they’re not getting bonuses this season.
So here’s a table totaling it all up:
|Player||Potential Bonuses||Bonuses Earned||Likely Bonus Total|
|Player||Potential Bonuses||Bonuses Earned||Likely Bonus Total|
So right now, the Blackhawks are on pace for total bonuses of $1.9825 million if Panarin misses his Schedule B bonus. If Panarin gets hot and earns the Schedule B bonus, the total bonuses jump to $3.708 million.
Calculating the possible overage
The final piece to figuring out the Blackhawks’ 2017-18 cap overage situation is their remaining salary cap space for 2016-17. If the team’s salary cap space was higher than its performance bonus total, none of this would be an issue. That’s why most teams don’t run into this problem.
The Blackhawks are currently on pace for just $393,247 in projected year-end cap space, per Cap Friendly, if you assume they won’t make any more moves this season. The number could go up if the team lowered its daily cap hit by demoting someone to the AHL, or it could go down if the team tries to add another piece before the trade deadline.
Still, let’s say the team does end up with roughly $400,000 in cap space for the end of the season. That money would be subtracted from the team’s total performance bonus payout to give you the upcoming salary cap overage.
So in the most likely scenario, where Panarin does not earn all of his bonuses, the Blackhawks’ cap overage for next season will be roughly $1.58 million. If Panarin gets all of his bonuses, the overage will be roughly $3.3 million.
There’s obviously a big difference in those two numbers, which is entirely dependent on the production of Panarin down the stretch. If he goes bonkers in the final couple weeks of the season, like he did last year, and scores his way into the top 10, the overage will be even bigger than this season’s. But at his current pace, the Blackhawks’ total overage will probably be almost half of what it was for 2016-17.
There’s not much the Blackhawks can do to really address this situation other than waiting and seeing, given that Panarin’s scoring is too important to the present team to jerk him around in hopes of preventing him from reaching the Schedule B bonus. They can move the needle a bit in terms of their remaining cap space, but not by much. The highest stakes are surrounding Panarin’s final numbers, so that’ll be the key situation to monitor as the regular season winds down.
This season, the Blackhawks have a lot of cap issues, but having over $4 million in dead money because of a cap overage and salary retained for Rob Scuderi has had a big impact. With another big salary from Panarin coming in the summer, being able to trim that dead money down closer to $1.5 million would be a big help.