There’s not much hope for the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2017-18 season, so it’s time that we start considering what lies in the future. As anyone who followed the team over the past decade knows, that process often opens by looking at what the team already has committed to the salary cap for the upcoming season.
Just like any other year, there’s a lot of uncertainty, from restricted free agents to draft signings to trades, but we can still provide an idea of what general manager Stan Bowman has to work with entering this offseason. From there, it tends to be easier to dig into where the roster changes could actually come.
Based on the information provided by Cap Friendly, the Blackhawks already have $63.1 million committed to 14 players, including Marian Hossa, for the 2018-19 season. The salary cap is expected to be in the $78-82 million range, according to December estimates from the NHL.
That gives the team more breathing room than we’ve seen in past seasons, but not necessarily the flexibility to make big changes given the need to fill out the roster. Like this season, Hossa can go on long-term injured reserve on opening day to free up flexibility in-season, but the Blackhawks will still need to carry that $5.275 million cap hit all summer unless they want to deal with the complications of offseason LTIR.
So putting all of that into consideration, here’s a rough sketch of where the Blackhawks’ cap situation lies for 2018-19. This includes projected salaries for several RFAs and the assumption that Dylan Sikura ultimately will sign with the team rather than opt for free agency.
Patrick Kane: $10.5 million
Jonathan Toews: $10.5 million
Brandon Saad: $6 million
Marian Hossa: $5.275 million
Artem Anisimov: $4.55 million
Ryan Hartman: $2 million*
Vinnie Hinostroza: $1.5 million*
Anthony Duclair: $1.5 million*
Tomas Jurco: $1 million*
John Hayden: $950,000*
Nick Schmaltz: $925,000
David Kampf: $925,000
Dylan Sikura: $925,000
Alex DeBrincat: $778,333
Brent Seabrook: $6.875 million
Duncan Keith: $5.538 million
Connor Murphy: $3.85 million
Gustav Forsling: $872,500
Jordan Oesterle: $650,000
Corey Crawford: $6 million
Anton Forsberg: $750,000
Total roster cap hits: $71,864,295
Estimated cap overage: $1,300,000
Total salary cap commitment: $73,164,295
Based on a $78 million salary cap, the Blackhawks would have roughly $4.835 million to add two more defensemen and make other moves. Based on a $82 million salary cap, they’d have nearly $9 million.
This is where you can see how Bowman might finally be able to operate from a position of strength. For the first time in years, he’ll be operating in a situation where he’s no longer backed into a corner as a result of the salary cap. Yes, this is a team badly in need of help, but no longer will Bowman lack leverage in various trade talks because teams know he’s operating from a place of desperation. I won’t deny that I’m intrigued by the idea of seeing what Bowman can do without those limits on his job.
The big question will be how to figure out the defense. 2017 first-round pick Henri Jokiharju could compete for an NHL spot next season, but otherwise, we’re looking at Keith, Oesterle, Seabrook, Murphy, and Forsling as the top five. Presumably the remaining cap space and/or trades will go primarily to addressing that problem by adding pieces beyond those five.
Just for fun, let’s consider something of a best-case scenario: Sikura and Jokiharju sign their ELCs, Anisimov gets traded with no money retained, and the RFAs all sign at the figures suggested above. Look at the opportunity this could create for Bowman to make a major addition.
Kane, Toews, Saad, Schmaltz, Hartman, Hinostroza, DeBrincat, Sikura, Duclair, Kampf, Jurco, Hayden, Kero, AND Hossa cost a combined $43.53 million. Seabrook, Keith, Murphy, Jokiharju, Forsling, and Oesterle cost a combined $18.71 million. Crawford and Forsberg add up to $6.75 million.
Take those 14 forwards, six defensemen, two goalies, and an estimated $1.3 million cap overage, and you still have just $70.29 million committed for next season. Under a $78 million salary cap, that would mean nearly $8 million to add a top-four defenseman and whatever other depth Bowman might seek. There’s little doubt that ownership will give permission to go as close to the cap as possible, partially because it’ll allow the team to maximize Hossa’s LTIR status on Opening Day 2018.
Here’s how the depth chart might look before the team uses those millions to make additions:
F1: DeBrincat — Schmaltz — Kane
F2: Saad — Toews — Duclair
F3: Hinostroza — Sikura — Hartman
F4: Jurco — Kampf — Hayden
D1: Keith — Oesterle
D2: Murphy — Seabrook
D3: Forsling — Jokiharju
G: Crawford — Forsberg
Clearly the defense is where you’d start there.
And this is all entirely doable. Hartman, Hinostroza, and Duclair will command only mild raises as RFAs. Schmaltz, DeBrincat, Oesterle, Forsling, Kampf, and Forsberg are already under contract. Anisimov should be easily movable after July 1 once he can only block trades to a limited number of teams.
So you can see here how the Blackhawks might get back to contention next season. They have plentiful forward depth that can hopefully be used to improve the defense. Cap space will likely be available in a way we haven’t seen the past few years. It’ll take a high level of execution, but at least the Blackhawks’ salary cap situation allows for some opportunity this summer.