Before we get into this discussion, let’s preface it with the context that too often goes ignored on this topic.
Brent Seabrook is a Blackhawks legend.
He’s played 1,082 games in the NHL and all of them were in Chicago, beginning in the 2005-06 season when the Blackhawks existence was slightly more than a rumor. He steadily developed into an excellent NHL defenseman who was vital to each of the three Stanley Cups won by the Hawks. His pairing with Duncan Keith gave Chicago a top defensive pairing for the better part of a decade and his No. 7 should be hanging from the United Center rafters as soon as he’s retired.
But the mileage has added up on Seabrook. His offensive numbers (5 goals, 23 assists) weren’t too far from his career averages and the primary weapons in his offensive arsenal remained effective: a long stretch pass out of the zone and a booming shot from the point. The defensive zone, however, is another story. A league that continues to get faster has only exacerbated the continued regression of Seabrook’s speed and agility, attributes that were never his strong suit but that we was able to overcome earlier in his career. It’s hard to argue for Seabrook’s effectiveness as anything other than a third-pairing defenseman at this point, and even that can be met with a healthy debate.
With a full no-movement clause through the 2022 season, Seabrook has veto power over any potential trade that general manager Stan Bowman could find, and it’d likely require packaging Seabrook with another young prospect to entice another team to take on that massive cap hit. A trade would be the simplest way to escape from the burden of the $6.875 million cap hit that Seabrook carries through the 2024 season. But that doesn’t seem plausible at this point and the contract cannot be buried in the AHL. So what other option does Chicago have? It’s not a good one, but it’s likely the only one left.
The cost of buying out Seabrook’s contract
Using the handy buyout calculator from the CapFriendly website, we can detail the salary cap ramifications of buying out Seabrook’s contract this summer. Here’s the financial impact of a mid-June buyout:
It would provide some relief next season and for 21-22, but the 20-21 and 22-23 seasons get virtually no relief. Seabrook’s cap hit then lingers at $833,333 through the rest of the next decade.
If the Blackhawks wait until 2020, the difference is minimal:
The cap hit would then linger through 2028, with little changes to the cap hits through 2024.
In both instances, it’s worth noting that the Blackhawks would get virtually no cap relief for the 20-21 season, when both Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome will likely begin new contracts after the expiration of their entry-level contracts.
Packaging another piece in a trade or buying out Seabrook’s contract are both far from “good” options. The question is whether or not Bowman believes those options are better than continuing to use an aging, regressing Seabrook in a league that’s only getting faster and quicker, making it more difficult for player like Seabrook to keep pace.
Pick your poison.