There’s little need to mince words here. If the NHL salary cap holds steady at $73 million for the 2017-18 season, as deputy commissioner Bill Daly said is possible Monday, then the Chicago Blackhawks are in big trouble. Yes, they’ll still find a way to ice a team next season, but you may not like what they’ll be required to do to achieve it.
Right now, the Blackhawks have a total cap hit of $77.52 million for next season with a full roster and a $3.558 million cap overage, per Cap Friendly. Daly said that the cap could increase to as much as $77 million if the NHLPA uses its full five percent escalator clause, but that’s highly unlikely.
Last year, the cap only went up 2.2 percent from the previous season. Part of the tricky situation for the NHLPA is that salary cap increases have a negative impact on escrow. That’s a more complicated situation than I can detail here, but the succinct point is that the players have a downside to maxing the cap increase.
And it appears that with the Vegas Golden Knights providing more jobs and more available money to players this offseason, it’s possible they’ll vote for no increase in the salary cap and lower escrow.
If they matched last year’s 2.2 percent increase, the cap would go up to $74.6 million. Either way, it’s going to be an issue for the Blackhawks.
The reality is that trades will need to solve this issue. The Blackhawks are going to lose someone in the expansion draft, but most likely, that’s Trevor van Riemsdyk, who has a $825,000 cap hit. Marcus Kruger is the ideal expansion casualty for Chicago with a $3.08 million cap hit, but the odds aren’t great that Vegas will want him at that cost. According to The Athletic’s Scott Powers, the Hawks may need to attach a prospect or pick to Kruger in order to shed his whole contract.
Kruger has a partial no-trade clause on his contract starting with the 2017-18 season, so he can block trades to a list of seven teams starting on July 1. Presumably the Hawks will treat that as a soft deadline for making sure to get out of his deal before he can submit a block list.
But even after the Hawks move Kruger, which seems like a near-certainty at this point, they’ll still have more work to do to get under the cap. Moving Kruger and replacing him with someone on an ELC like Alex DeBrincat would only save the team a little over $2 million in cap space. They’d still be millions over the cap.
That means more trades are coming, whether you like it or not. Brent Seabrook seems like the ideal candidate, although his no-movement clause and onerous contract make it possible the Hawks can’t find a suitor. In that case, they may need to turn to someone with a partial no-trade clause (Corey Crawford, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Artemi Panarin). The loss to the Hawks’ roster would be significant, but it’s not like there’s an alternative to icing a team below the salary cap.
So it might be time to start admitting this offseason has greater urgency than we might’ve expected. The Blackhawks are already in a major cap crunch before the summer has even started, and with so many no-movement clauses, a difficult situation becomes even more trying.
The NHLPA hasn’t voted on the escalator clause yet, so it’s still possible they decide to increase the salary cap, even if it’s not by the full five percent. At this point, the Blackhawks will use any help they can get.