The Chicago Blackhawks know quite well that you can’t run a team in the NHL without planning for the future. There are so many moving pieces on the chessboard that need to be kept track of, and in a salary cap league, you can’t simply spend your way out of problems.
That means constantly planning for tomorrow, even when you’re trying to win today, because that’s what it takes to run a modern sports franchise. And over the past few years, GM Stan Bowman has been kept especially busy thanks to a talented, expensive core that limits flexibility elsewhere on the roster.
But keeping an eye on the future didn’t stop Bowman from making some move before the 2017 trade deadline, adding Johnny Oduya and Tomas Jurco for the stretch run. In the process, the Blackhawks ate into the cap space they had accumulated earlier in the season, but for a worthy cause.
Still, every dollar counts, so here’s a look at what the Blackhawks have on the books for next season at this point, via Cap Friendly.
Patrick Kane — $10,500,000
Jonathan Toews — $10,500,000
Artemi Panarin — $6,000,000
Marian Hossa — $5,275,000
Artem Anisimov — $4,550,000
Marcus Kruger — $3,083,333
Nick Schmaltz — $925,000
Tyler Motte — $925,000
Ryan Hartman — $863,333
Vinnie Hinostroza — $717,500
Jordin Tootoo — $700,000
Brent Seabrook — $6,875,000
Duncan Keith — $5,538,462
Niklas Hjalmarsson — $4,100,000
Gustav Forsling — $872,500
Trevor van Riemsdyk — $825,000
Michal Rozsival — $650,000
Corey Crawford — $6,000,000
That’s 11 forwards, six defensemen, and one goaltender for a total of $68.9 million. Add in a salary cap overage, which we’ll estimate at about $1.7 million (assuming Panarin doesn’t get all his bonuses), and your total cap commitment is at roughly $70.6 million. If you assume the NHL salary cap is going to stay flat at $73 million for the 2017-18 season, then the Blackhawks would have about $2.4 million to fill the remaining four or five spots on their roster.
So that’s pretty much the base line under which the Blackhawks will be operated entering the summer. That’s when things get interesting, as the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft on June 21 comes right before the NHL Entry Draft at the United Center on June 23-24.
The Blackhawks will lose a player to Vegas in the expansion draft, and it’s unclear who that will be at this point. Most likely, it’s either a young defenseman like TVR or Ville Pokka, or if Kruger is left unprotected, that could be a sensible way for Vegas to get past the salary cap floor with a relatively low-risk contract.
Losing Kruger would help alleviate the salary cap situation, pushing the team’s available space to about $5.5 million with five or six spots to fill. That’s not good, either, but it’s at least feasible if the team was absolutely, 100 percent determined not to move any other core players this summer.
But would it be enough to make for a good, deep team? Let’s see what they could potentially do.
First, the Blackhawks would need to re-sign their restricted free agents. Richard Panik, who likely will be protected from Vegas alongside Ryan Hartman and another forward (in addition to the eight players with NMCs), has a $875,000 cap hit in his breakout season, and should command a raise to, say, $1.75 million.
Jurco, Tanner Kero, Dennis Rasmussen, and Michal Kempny are also RFAs. You only need two more forwards, though, so let’s say you could sign Jurco, Kero, and Kempny for roughly $3 million combined. That could leave you with just enough money for a backup goalie, but it’d be a bottom of the barrel addition and you wouldn’t be able to add anyone else.
At this point, the Blackhawks would need to trade a core player or accept their cheaper options. One possibility would be to trade Corey Crawford, who has a limited no-trade clause, then re-sign Scott Darling to a less lucrative deal that would free up cap space. It would be a big risk to move on from Crawford, but it could be worth it if you can get a strong return AND free up millions in cap space by retaining Darling.
Alternatively, the team could just try to squeeze everything in. They don’t need another five skaters on the roster, so maybe you trade one or two of those pending RFAs. And maybe you can convince another veteran to take a Brian Campbell-like deal, where a lower base salary (and cap hit) is made up for by tacking on performance bonuses.
Either way, the Blackhawks have their work cut out for them, but Bowman deserves credit for putting the team in a pretty good position. Panarin reaching his $1.725 million Schedule B bonus would throw a big wrench into things, but he’s not on pace to earn it right now, and as long as he doesn’t get it, the Blackhawks should actually be able to navigate this summer fairly well. The biggest losses, most likely, will be Kruger and Darling unless something major happens.
But that still keeps the biggest names in the core intact, and with a new young group led by Hartman and Schmaltz emerging, the stars-and-scrubs salary structure should actually work for the time being. The upcoming summer won’t be easy for the Blackhawks, but they should come out of it with a very strong team once again.