Chicago Blackhawks In Midst Of A Stormy Offseason
Some Chicago Blackhawks fans will spend these hot days wringing their hands in their grill aprons, trying to figure out how to solve the organization’s massive salary crisis. Other fans will scream at sports radio worms from their comfortably air-conditioned cars as they crawl through the impossible traffic.
“Oh, Stan Bowman really screwed us here!” might be rolling off every fan’s tongue this summer. Whether you liked the Teuvo Teravainen/Bryan Bickell deal or not doesn’t matter. Get ready for more controversial moves from the front office.
No Stanley Cup, No Problem
Dare I say it? We’re all better off with the Blackhawks not winning the Stanley Cup this season. Winning another Stanley Cup would likely have made it more challenging for the Blackhawks to retain the services of their players.
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Richard Panik may have asked for more money on the contract he recently signed to stay in Chicago. Andrew Shaw may have been even further out of reach than he is now. Sure, the Blackhawks may have gotten a little more from the Teravainen deal if the young forward had back-to-back Stanley Cup victories under his suspenders.
On the other hand, Artemi Panarin would have made Mars look close, his value would have rocketed so high. And don’t even mention those incentive bonuses!
Don’t get me wrong, winning another Stanley Cup would have felt better than eating butter in heaven, especially following the season Panarin and Patrick Kane had. But it also would have made this offseason a whole lot worse — more hellish than being locked in a truck-stop bathroom while the tiny speaker rings out “Hotel California” on repeat.
Laid To Rest
Moving Teravainen and Bickell to Carolina was a great move. Bickell cost too much to keep, and he’ll benefit from a fresh start in a new clubhouse. Teravainen looked better than ever this year, but he didn’t outshine anyone or establish himself as a player worth keeping.
No one likes giving away prospects, but it’s part of the game in the salary-cap era. This is the right time to move Teravainen, while he still holds the intrinsic value of youthful potential. It’s not like the Blackhawks gave him away either. Chicago’s front office unloaded Bickell’s top-heavy contract and won two draft picks in the deal. That’s a win.
The NHL declared late Tuesday the 2016-17 salary cap would be $73 million, up from $71.4 million last season. With about $66 million locked up in current player contracts and overages from the 2015-16 season, the Blackhawks will have to spend wisely to satisfy four gaps in the forward lines and to fortify a flimsy defensive group. Adding four rookies to the NHL roster would bump the ‘Hawks salary spending to just below $70 million, leaving the team roster thin with only 20 skaters.
So at a minimum depth of 20 skaters, the Blackhawks’ war chest looks hollow. A projected $3 million will remain to add depth to the roster, and that money will like go to one of the following three projects.
One option is to add a veteran defenseman who can play well alongside one of the younger players on the third defensive pairing. The blue line needs a little more maturity and a lot more vision in order to be competitive next season. Bowman already spent money to bring former Czech and KHL defenseman Michal Kempny into the organization, so it is unlikely that a significant portion of whatever salary remains will be dedicated to improving the defense.
Of course, due to his explosive performance last season, Panarin will find himself a top priority on Bowman’s to-do list. The front office could also spend the majority of the leftover funds to secure a mid-length contract for Panarin. Three million dollars does not buy a long-term contract, but the ‘Hawks might find it useful to delay a long-term deal for Panarin by offering him a more modest three-to-four-year proposal.
Or, to try and avoid the issue altogether, Chicago may promise to press a juicy new deal for Panarin by next summer, and in the meantime, he’ll receive some incentive-based bonus opportunities.
Finally, Bowman needs to make a decision on Shaw, whose future is uncertain. Like the frayed end of a shoelace, either he’ll be threaded back in, or he’ll be cut loose. One could imagine that he will cost the Blackhawks at least as much as Marcus Kruger — a tough $3 million.
If the front office wants to keep Shaw and fill gaps in the forward lines with rookies, they can consider their money spent already. In all likelihood, Shaw will not be donning a ‘Hawks sweater this coming season.
Blackhawks fans ought to brace themselves for a tumultuous offseason. With money so tight, the front office will have to make deals they might normally avoid. All the big-money players on the current roster, about nine in total, carry contracts with no-move or no-trade clauses. Those players have more control over how, and if, they get traded.
So Stan Bowman and company will have to work extra hard if they want to free up a big chunk of salary space. Still, don’t be surprised to see Chicago strike a deal to trade away Marian Hossa or Brent Seabrook.