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Coming To Chicago This Summer: Cap Reality

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For those of you who don't pay much attention to the Western Conference the big news this week was that the Chicago Blackhawks managed to get three of their young stars resigned this week. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane both signed for 6.3 million per year and Duncan Keith for 5.5 per year. Blackhawk fans were falling all over themselves in self congratulation with the news.

However, the team is going to have to perform "roster reduction surgery" to clear away the foolishness that former GM Tallon committed in the Summer of 2008. This coming summer the Blackhawks are going to have to move a lot of salary just to field a roster of 21 players for the 2010-2011 season. Below is 21 man roster chart of players currently under contract with Chicago and their cap salaries (or Qualifying Offers for RFAs this summer).

A couple of technical notes. RFAs who make under 1 million must be offered a 10% raise in their qualifying offers (which they don't have to sign). Young players on Entry Level Contracts (ELC) will have all bonus money count against the cap next year because it is the final year of the CBA. I have used a 21 man roster instead of the NHL minimum 20 man roster because it is virtually impossible to go with just 20 players. If a guy is out a few days, he doesn't quality for Long Term Injury Replacement, but someone has to to dress--so I budgeted for 21 roster spots. The minimum NHL salary is half a million dollars currently.

OK and now for the really ugly part. If we assume that all of the current Blackhawks RFAs were to simply accept their qualifying offers and no trades were made, then I have Chicago sitting at $66 million in cap hits with a salary cap expected to remain largely unchanged (currently $56.7 million). The team is projected to be over by $8-10 million depending on where the cap is set next season.


6.300 Toews
6.300 Kane
5.275 Hossa
3.900 Sharp
3.375 Bolland
3.083 Versteeg
3.000 Byfuglien
1.550 Ladd RFA Qualifying Offer
1.200 Kopecky ELC
1.070 Eager RFA Qualifying Offer
1.025 Brouwer
0.770 Fraser RFA Qualifying Offer
7.142 Campbell
5.500 Keith
3.500 Seakbook
3.083 Barker
2.333 Sopel
0.700 Hjalmarsson RFA Qualifying Offer
5.625 Huet
0.800 Crawford
0.500 Bench Player
66.031 2010 TOTAL
56.700 Current Cap Max
9.331 Difference



The good news for Blackhawk fans is that their young core players were signed last week. The bad news is that several current members of a Cup-contending squad will have to be traded this summer. Let's play amateur GM and see how this works out.

The non-Campbell, non-Huet Scenario

Let's assume that both the Campbell and Huet contracts are too costly to move. In this situation the Hawks need to deal away 4 guys making some serious coin. If they moved Cam Barker ($3.08 million), Dave Bolland ($3.375) and Dustin Byfuglien ($3.0) and replaced them with three players averaging just $0.700 a piece that still leaves the team $2 million over the current cap. Assuming the cap doesn't rise, they would need to a) move either Versteeg or Sharp; or b) exchange their entire checking group (Kopecky, Eager, Brouwer and Fraser) for 4 guys making the NHL minimum. This scenario involves the most carnage for the existing lineup of skaters, as it would essentially gut the team's depth.

The Campbell Traded Scenario

The two most egregious contracts are those given to Brian Campbell (7.142 million) and Christobal Huet (5.625 million). To move either of this contracts Chicago would probably have to include either a 1st round pick or a top prospect to make another team swallow either of them. Let's suppose that Chicago was able to swing Campbell + 1st round pick to Dallas for a pick or prospect. If Cam Barker moves into the top 4 D for Chicago, and a journeyman making .6 million fills Campbell's roster spot, that still leaves them $2.8 over the cap. To clear that much more salary they would have to swap a player making $3.3 million for a guy making the league minimum or basically Dave Bolland or Patrick Sharp.

The Huet Traded Scenario

Most teams only have one starting goalie--there are only so many starting jobs around the NHL. Few teams can afford afford to lavish All-Star money on a non-All Star talent, which means that the Cristobal Huet contract is probably tougher to move than the Campbell contract. But let's suppose for a moment that Chicago can find a taker. Who would take Huet's place? That's a key question and one that is hard to predict. Almost any starter of any quality is going to have a cap hit of $3 million or more. The team might find a cheaper option such as Theodore, Biron or Emery on the UFA market, but those cheaper options come with a serious downside risk. Let's assume that the Blackhawks go very cheap at the goal position and only spend $2.5 on Huet's replacement. That still leaves them $6 million over the cap. Trading away Barker ($3.08), Sopel ($2.3) and one medium priced forward (perhaps Bolland $3.0) and replacing them with players making just $700,000 gets them under the cap with some money for a Hjalmarsson raise.

The Dream Scenario: Campbell and Huet Traded

The least disruptive solution to the Blackhawks depth would be to move both fat contracts next summer. The biggest question is whether they can find any suckers (call Bob Gainey?) or whether they are willing to part with high draft picks or top prospect Kyle Beach to purchase cap space. Assuming that they can make these two ugly contracts vanish and replace the D slot with a cheap defenseman, that would leave about $2-3 million for a starting goalie. This is easily the least disruptive scenario for the current roster--but presumably would come at the cost of future talent (picks and prospects).

Concluding Thoughts

Trying to game plan the future is always challenging. At this point, we have no idea what the final cap number will be (but attendance is flat and tickets are being discounted in many cities). We also have no way of knowing if RFAs like Ladd and Hjalmarsson will demand more money than their qualifying offers. Despite these "known unknowns" I've tried to get a sense of how things might play out this summer in the Windy City.