The Chicago Blackhawks always enter the offseason ready to turn over part of the roster, but this one is a little different. The team is coming off an embarrassing first-round sweep that general manager Stan Bowman called a “complete failure” in a statement after the series.
Bowman’s comments hinted at potentially major changes coming to the Blackhawks’ roster, with Joel Quenneville’s job as head coach safe for now. The team is eyeing its personnel as the reason it fell so short of expectations in the playoffs, and wants the same brain trust that won three Stanley Cups to reload the roster on the fly.
That won’t easy, unfortunately, due to the team’s salary cap situation and playing fast and loose with no-movement clauses. The team already has a ton of money committed for 2017-18, and many of those players cannot be traded without their permission. If the Blackhawks want to overhaul their roster, it would not be easy.
Changes need to happen this summer, though, something Bowman made clear during his first discussion with reporters. And if it’s not happening with Quenneville and the coaching staff, it’s reasonable to assume that means the roster is getting a shake up.
But before that can happen, the Blackhawks need to take tabs on where their roster is currently at, and what needs to be addressed most. With that in mind, here’s a look at the Blackhawks’ salary cap books, and what their roster looks like now using players already in the organization. All cap and clause info via Cap Friendly.
On the books
Here’s a look at what the Blackhawks’ roster would look like next season using exclusively players already under contract. This also includes an estimated $3.6 million salary cap overage for the 2016-17 season based on performance bonuses earned by Artemi Panarin, Brian Campbell, Gustav Forsling, and Michal Kempny.
|Trevor van Riemsdyk||$825,000|
So you’ll immediately notice something at the bottom: this team has a total cap over the current upper limit of $73 million. If the salary cap doesn’t go up significantly next season, the Blackhawks will be over the cap even if they don’t re-sign Richard Panik, Scott Darling, Tomas Jurco, Johnny Oduya, Campbell, or Kempny.
In early March, the NHL said the salary cap was projected to rise to $75.5-76 million next season, but that’s not a sure thing. Last season, NHL GMs were told the cap could go as high as $74 million around the same time, then it came down $1 million less than that. So while an increase in the cap might be likely, it won’t necessarily be the $2.5-3 million that we saw the NHL project nearly two months ago.
Panik, Jurco, and Kempny are restricted free agents, so the Hawks could trade them, but this shows you why the team need to shed salary. The problem is that won’t be easy.
The expansion draft
The Blackhawks are going to lose somebody in the expansion draft. Right now, assuming the team decides to protect three more forwards in addition to its crew of no-movement clauses, Trevor van Riemsdyk is the most likely pick for the Vegas Golden Knights. He’s a solid, young defenseman on a cheap contract for the next two years, and he would add Stanley Cup experience to an expansion team that could use it. We’ll have a lot more on the expansion draft in the lead up to it, but for now, let’s assume TVR is who the Blackhawks lose to Vegas.
The trouble with losing TVR to Vegas is that it doesn’t solve the team’s cap issues at all given how affordable his contract is. That means at least one trade involving large salaries is likely this summer, with center Marcus Kruger and his $3.08 million cap hit leading the list. His partial no-trade clause kicks in July 1 with the new league year beginning, so it’s almost a lock he’s a goner before then.
There are two other potential cap casualties you’ll be less thrilled to hear about: Corey Crawford and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Those two only have partial no-trade clauses attached to their no-movement clauses, so unlike the other players with full NMCs, Crawford and Hjalmarsson join Kruger as potentially tradable options. Then again, replacing either one would be costly in itself, so the Blackhawks will need to weigh how they can fill these gaps, what kind of returns they can get, and whether there’s another way to fill out depth on this team.
If the 2017 postseason taught us anything, it’s to temper expectations for rookies in those big-time situations. But one area for optimism is the youth that’s coming through the Blackhawks’ organization. Schmaltz, Hartman, and Forsling all got useful NHL experience this season, and the hope is that as sophomores they’ll be ready to contribute a lot more.
Additionally, top prospect Alex DeBrincat will start his entry-level deal, and the diminutive scorer will be looking to show he can carry over his absurd production from the OHL. It may take DeBrincat some time in the AHL, and maybe he won’t pan out at all, but that’s the Blackhawks’ best shot at adding a major scorer internally this offseason.
Other intriguing young names include Tyler Motte, Erik Gustafsson, Ville Pokka, Alexandre Fortin, Luc Snuggerud, Matheson Iacopelli, Anthony Louis, Robin Norell, and Carl Dahlstrom.
The current team
So let’s try to take a stab at what this might look like with some pieces removed, but before any monster trade. Let’s assume that the Blackhawks lose TVR to Vegas, trade Kruger, and use the savings to re-sign Kempny, Jurco, and Dennis Rasmussen, who are RFAs.
Panik and Darling have priced themselves out of the Hawks’ market, so the former is traded for picks, and the latter walks as a free agent. At this point, they’ll be roughly at the salary cap upper limit, assuming there’s not a major increase from $73 million, so they’d essentially be holding steady with the current group.
Considering where this year’s team went, does that look like a Stanley Cup winner? Probably not. This is why, as Bowman said before, all options are on the table as the Blackhawks enter this summer.