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Blackhawks’ most formidable foe has returned: the salary cap

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A reported flat salary cap for the next few seasons is going to cause financial headaches for the Blackhawks — again.

Sullivan Column Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

It was an awfully news-heavy weekend in the hockey world, considering it was a holiday weekend in the US.

On Saturday, Scott Powers of The Athletic reported that Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook will attempt to join his teammates on the ice should training camps open later this month.

More on Seabrook later.

On Sunday, details began to emerge on how the NHL will approach Phases 3 and 4 of its return-to-play plan, which will include the opening of training camps and, if things proceed far enough, actual hockey games.

But it was the news that trickled out late last week which appears to have significant ramifications for the Blackhawks financial future, both in the short and long-term, as it appears the League’s salary cap is about to cause major headaches for teams, according to these tweets from Sportsnet reporter Elliotte Friedman:

Here’s the shortened version of what this all means:

It’s almost comforting that, even in the midst of a global pandemic, we can still rely on the constant of the Blackhawks facing a major salary cap crunch in the upcoming offseason.

If the salary cap remains at $81.5 million for the next season, the Blackhawks will have some treacherous waters to navigate whenever the next offseason arrives. According to CapFriendly, the Blackhawks have just over $74 million committed to 18 players for next season.

Six players comprise $45.813 million of the Blackhawks salary cap, which is about 56 percent of the $81.5 million salary cap:

Jonathan Toews ($10.5 million)
Patrick Kane ($10.5 million)
Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million)
Alex DeBrincat ($6.4 million)
Brandon Saad ($6 million)
Duncan Keith ($5.538 million)

Obviously, Seabrook’s contract remains the millstone. With compliance buyouts apparently not being included as part of the next CBA, the four remaining years on Seabrook’s deal don’t appear to be going anywhere. The revisionist history involving the contract has felt irrelevant for years and seems even more pointless to entertain now because a buyout appears to be the only way out of the deal.

Still, one of the shortest paths for the Blackhawks to return to contention involves Seabrook taking an extended swim in the fountain of youth and rediscovering the form that made him a vital part of three Cup-winning teams. Coming off of three surgeries in the year he turned 35, though, makes that dream feel unlikely at best.

Seabrook’s contract is not the only problem, of course. Considering the Blackhawks have just $7.35 million of cap space at the moment (again per CapFriendly), here are some of the problems that must be addressed:

  • The Blackhawks do not have an NHL goalie under contract for next season. Corey Crawford is an unrestricted free agent, while Malcolm Subban is a restricted free agent. AHL goalies Collin Delia ($1 million), Kevin Lankinen ($800,000) and Matt Tomkins ($700,000) are under contract.
  • Dominik Kubalik is likely due a significant raise from his ‘19-20 cap hit of $925,000 after finishing second on the team with 30 goals in the regular season
  • Dylan Strome’s entry-level contract expires after this season and he’ll be due for a raise from his $863,333 cap hit
  • Drake Caggiula and Slater Koekkoek are both restricted free agents this offseason

It all adds up to another massive headache for general manager Stan Bowman, who appears to be the person that’ll be resolving these conflicts. It seems like the only way forward is for the Blackhawks to combine its high-priced veterans with a bevvy of young talent playing on entry-level contracts to maximize the minimal wiggle room it will have under the salary cap for the next few seasons.

Look on the bright side, though: the Blackhawks aren’t the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have about $40.45 million (roughly half of the salary cap) committed to four players through 2024 who’ve won ... (*checks notes*) zero Stanley Cups.