Blackhawks’ future cap problems

139990-330-0Now that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have signed identical 8-year, $84 million contracts that go into effect for the 2015-16 season, Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks can focus on continuing to build a strong roster around those two guys. The problem is, with Kane and Toews each due to make $10.5 million per year starting in 2015, the Blackhawks won’t have a whole lot of cap space to sign and re-sign certain players. This is a topic that has come up a ton over the last week and a half since both 88 and 19 signed their extensions.

As of right now, with both Kane and Toews still on their previous contracts of $6.3 million per year, the Blackhawks are just over $2 million over the salary cap. That means that between now and the beginning of this upcoming season, someone on the team has to go via a trade. All signs indicate it will be Oduya, Leddy, or Rozsival. That will take care of this year’s cap problem. Let’s move ahead to next year (2015-16).

Beginning with the ’15-’16 season, Kane and Toews will each see a $4.2 million increase in their salaries as previously mentioned. Granted, the NHL salary cap is expected to rise between now and then to possibly a bit over $70 million, but the Blackhawks will also be paying Kane and Toews roughly $8 million more (combined) than they are now. They will also have a number of players becoming either restricted or unrestricted free agents after this upcoming season. Richards, Kruger, Saad, Regin, Oduya, Leddy, Rozsival, and Rundblad will all need new contracts after this year. Count on one of Oduya, Leddy, or Rozsival to be traded soon here, shortening that list by one.

Odds are that the Blackhawks will only aggressively pursue Saad, Kruger, Oduya, and Leddy, assuming both Leddy and/or Oduya are still around at that point in time which may not be the case. Brandon Saad is going to see a big pay raise, as he should. The Blackhawks have also made it clear that he is not going anywhere, basically solidifying the fact that they’ll be giving Saad a new deal once he becomes an RFA after this season. Marcus Kruger, who will also be an RFA after the 2014-15 season, will most likely see a pay raise as well.

7327531Since the Hawks will have a very limited amount of money to spend next off-season, I would expect a “bridge-deal” for Brandon Saad, meaning they may give him a two-year extension worth $4 million per year instead of a six-year, $25 million extension. Maybe we see the same with Kruger, but I’d expect something more along the lines of a three to four year extension worth $2.5 million per year. So why give Saad a bridge-deal? Here’s the answer.

Following the 2016-17 season, both Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell become unrestricted free agents. Neither should see an increase in pay at that point, and maybe one doesn’t even return to the Hawks (assuming neither is traded between now and then). Between the two of them, they will be making $9.9 million/year for the next three seasons, which means once their contracts are up, the Hawks will have that much more money to give guys like Saad a much bigger contract.

As for the other players I listed earlier like Richards, Regin, and Rundblad, they probably won’t be Blackhawks at this time next year. Expect some of the Hawks’ prospects to fill the holes left by those guys. Players like Phillip Danault, Stephen Johns, Adam Clendening, and a few others will be making the jump to the NHL and can fill some of the vacancies left by departing Blackhawks. For what it’s worth, there is an extremely good chance we will see Clendening and/or Johns in the NHL this season.

So as you can see, the new contracts for Kane and Toews will create some cap problems for Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks. That does NOT mean that the new contracts for those two players are bad. They are two of the most elite players in the NHL and deserve every penny they are getting paid. If they had opted for free agency, they’d be getting even more money. Most teams would kill to have either Kane or Toews on their team, and the Hawks have both.

While trying to come up with a Stanley Cup-caliber roster with limited money to do so won’t be easy, you can count on the Blackhawks always being a contender for as long as Kane and Toews remain on the team. They are that good and make everyone around them that much better. I also trust that Stan Bowman and his staff will continue to put the Hawks in position to win the Cup on a yearly basis. It won’t be easy, but if any team can find a way to work and be successful around the cap numbers, it’s the Blackhawks.

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