It’s been a couple of weeks since the Chicago Blackhawks began another transitional offseason. The Blackhawks, who are once again strapped for salary cap space, were forced to trade star 22-year-old Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets because the Hawks couldn’t meet his desire for a long-term deal at a heavy cost (he received six years at $6 million per from Columbus).
Saad was the most unexpected move and biggest domino to fall heading into the offseason. There was plenty of speculation that the Blackhawks would trade one or more of Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell or Kris Versteeg to free up cap space to sign Saad to whatever demands he required.
The Chicago Blackhawks were expected to ship out at least one of these three players during the weekend of the NHL draft, but failed to do so. General Manager Stan Bowman reportedly wanted a pick, prospect and player from a potential trade partner in exchange for Sharp, a depreciating asset.
Now the Chicago Blackhawks might be left taking less than they intended just to free up some cap space. With restricted free agent Marcus Kruger working out a deal and unrestricted free agent Johnny Oduya waiting in the wings for a team to snatch him up, Bowman needs to get to work on addressing the cap sooner rather than later. Trading Sharp or Bickell to sign Kruger and Oduya are immensely important and would better the team in the long run.
Sharp has been a main part of the rebuild and took a back seat once Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane arrived. His contributions to the franchise will never be forgotten, but his cap number is one Bowman would like to get off his books as soon as possible.
The 33-year-old winger is out of his prime and approaching his 14th professional season. Not only is Sharp’s mileage adding up, but his production is declining. Sharp scored only 16 goals and had 43 points in 68 regular-season games last season, a year after putting up a 78-point season and playing all 82 regular season games. Last year’s production certainly doesn’t merit his steep cap hit of $5.9 million over the next two seasons, and the Blackhawks could likely re-sign Kruger and Oduya for the price of Sharp.
The Saad trade does give Sharp more value to Chicago, however. The Chicago Blackhawks need someone to replace Saad’s 23 goals, and without Sharp the Hawks would lack experience on the left wing. Joel Quenneville would likely be forced to play two talented yet inexperienced players in Viktor Tikhonov and Artemi Panarin.
Sharp does have increased value with Saad gone, but the Blackhawks would have to battle to piece together a roster with him on it. Bowman tried to get something of value for Sharp during the draft, but struck out. The market for Sharp must not be too warm, and it could force Bowman into simply giving Sharp away for little to nothing. Sharp also has a no-trade clause that limits the Blackhawks to 10 teams that he can be traded to without his permission, unless he adds another.
The odds of Sharp being dealt are as close to 50-50 as it gets. The odds of him being dealt have definitely decreased since the draft and were reduced even more so when potential partners in Pittsburgh and Washington made trades for similar players. Sharp’s value on the ice is noticeable, but diminishing, unlike his cap number.
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Bickell still has a relatively good chance of getting traded, but the Blackhawks may need to retain some of his $4 million annual salary to get it done. Bickell put up a modest 28 points in 80 regular-season games and didn’t help his value one bit by tallying only five assists in the playoffs, which has historically been his time of the year.
The market for Bickell can’t be too strong, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Blackhawks essentially dump Bickell, retain $1 or $2 million dollars in salary and get a couple of pucks in return. The best shot for a trade partner is a team looking for a third- or even fourth-line winger to cement some depth into the lineup at a low cost.
Bickell carries a hefty price tag without the track record or potential meriting it. His extension has to be one of Bowman’s biggest regrets and is one that could cost the Blackhawks a shot at re-signing Oduya.
Speaking of regrets, perhaps the second one on Bowman’s list is trading for Versteeg, who carries a $2.2 million cap hit and was wildly inconsistent other than during the Stanley Cup Final. He scored 14 goals and added 20 assists last season, but was far from a two-way player and was sloppy at times.
Versteeg seemed to be getting back on track at the beginning of the year when he was paired with Brad Richards and Kane, but he suffered a hand injury during the Winter Classic that kind of derailed his momentum.
Getting Versteeg’s $2.2 million off the books allows Bowman a nice ceiling to re-sign Kruger, but that’s about it. Bowman may prioritize getting rid Bickell or Sharp first and then survey the scene for any Versteeg buyers. His odds of getting traded are likely dependent on what other trades Bowman makes, if any.
Somehow, someway, the Blackhawks will need to get under the $71.4 million salary cap by the start of next season. That’ll likely mean trading at least one of Sharp, Bickell and Versteeg. It’s just uncertain which combination will ultimately be dealt.
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