Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks’ Brent Seabrook Contract Continues To Be Problem

By Tim Martens
CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 17: Brent Seabrook
CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 17: Brent Seabrook /
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Nearing the end of an overall terrible season for the Chicago Blackhawks, let’s be gluttons for punishment and talk about the Brent Seabrook contract a little bit more

At this point, writing a post like this is like beating a dead horse. You have heard it so many times before: The albatross that is the Brent Seabrook contract is absolutely killing the cap-strapped Chicago Blackhawks.

But at this point, in what can only be described as a failed season, I have found myself playing out “what if” scenarios almost daily. In the midst of these daydreams where the ‘Hawks are still a competitive and dangerous hockey team, there is common ground in the majority: Seabrook does not get his asinine contract.

Let me prequel all of this by saying I don’t think Seabrook is completely useless anymore. He certainly wasn’t useless when he signed this deal, either. He is still a serviceable bottom-pairing defenseman.

But much like some fans complaining Jonathan Toews is paid too much for the production he gives, Seabrook should never have received a $55 million contract.

The contract

There is no doubt the Seabrook contract has been giving the Blackhawks trouble over the last few years. At $6.875 million over eight seasons, the contract was a $1.075 million increase from his previous contract for a player who would be turning 30 years old at the time the contract started.

If you think paying a declining Seabrook $6.875 million this year (when he was still 32) was hard, get ready to pay him the same thing when he is 37.

It may be easy to try to write off the deal as the Blackhawks wanting to retain a three-time Stanley Cup champion defenseman and thinking the salary cap would continue to rise. But the biggest issue right off the top is that genearl manager Stan Bowman believed Seabrook was worth a 15 percent contract raise on a deal that would span most of his post-prime years.

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This is on top of the fact that already under contract were Toews and Patrick Kane at $10.5 million each, Corey Crawford at $6 million, Marian Hossa at $5.275 million, Duncan Keith at $5.538 million and a just-signed Artem Anisimov with an extension that would eventually account for $4.55 million annually.

Before Seabrook, the Blackhawks were holding over $42 million in those six players alone. With all of that in mind, Bowman believed the best course of action was to extend a defenseman to eight years of hockey, in his 30s, at nearly $7 million a year. All of this in a deal that would be signed almost a year before Seabrook would become a free agent.

Without seeing the entire 2015-16 season for Seabrook (a season he was already under contract for), Bowman determined that he knew what the market value would be for his defenseman and paid him as such. He made the business decision of extending him to this contract. It has haunted the team ever since.

Comparison

Let’s look at the Kevin Shattenkirk deal from last summer. The New York Rangers gave the defenseman a contract that was worth $6.65 million a season, almost identical in rate as Seabrook’s deal. However, there are three very important differences.

First, the deal started a year after the Seabrook deal went into place, giving the Rangers an extra $2 million on the salary cap in Shattenkirk’s first year with the team. Second, Shattenkirk was two years younger than Seabrook at the start of the deal. Third, the deal was half the length, only lasting for four years and ending when Shattenkirk will have just turned 32.

You may be saying, “Well, Seabrook is a much better defenseman than Shattenkirk.” Well, it depends how you look at it. Defensemen are a little harder to gauge in stats alone as typical hockey stats are geared more to offense than defense, but let’s take a look anyway.

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In the two years since Seabrook’s huge contract kicked in, the defenseman has six goals and 52 assists and is averaging around 21 minutes of ice time a night. He has been a 50.3 and 53.6 percent Corsi-for, and his relative Corsi in the two years is minus-0.1 and minus-0.2. In his career, Seabrook averages 0.43 points per game and is a career 52.8 Corsi-for and minus-1.3 relative Corsi.

Meanwhile, Shattenkirk has 18 goals, 61 assists, averages 20 minutes on ice, has a 54.3 and 47.5 Corsi-for and 2.1 and 1.0 relative Corsi in the last two years (the second season being his first with the Rangers). In his career, Shattenkirk averages 0.6 points per game and is a career 53.1 Corsi-for and 2.3 relative Corsi.

Look, Shattenkirk is just one guy to look at, and even trying to compare the two defensemen is a flawed system. But there is one thing for sure: Shattenkirk was seen as the No. 1 defensive free agent on the market a full year after Seabrook would have been a free agent. One could argue that (coming a year later) the money Shattenkirk could dictate could be more than what Seabrook would have been able to receive.

In the end, Shattenkirk received essentially the same amount of money Seabrook did, got it a year later when asking prices would only be higher, and on a deal that lasted half the length of term. Oh, and all of this while still being a younger player with similar stats.

The daydreams

Hindsight is certainly 20/20, but I can’t help but imagine the other ways the Blackhawks could have used cap space if they had managed Seabrook’s deal differently.

First off, the Seabrook extension came the same summer that Bowman traded Brandon Saad (who was due for a raise) to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Anisimov and some other pieces that ultimately didn’t matter. Bowman had an idea of what Saad would be asking for from his new deal and determined that he could not pay the winger with the other money already on the books and Seabrook’s extension coming down the road.

But what if Bowman’s work on Seabrook’s extension wasn’t top priority? What if he re-signed Saad in the summer of 2015 and worried about Seabrook’s extension later? Well, the defending Stanley Cup-champion Blackhawks would have kept Saad on the team while adding soon-to-be superstar Artemi Panarin (already signed before the 2014-15 season ended) to the roster.

The Blackhawks would eventually be eliminated in the first round by the St. Louis Blues in a one-goal loss in Game 7. An argument could certainly be made that Saad being on that roster would have been the extra piece needed to get over the hump and move on to at least the second round that season.

Chicago Blackhawks

That same season, Bowman (knowing the Blackhawks needed a little extra help at the trade deadline) traded 22-year-old Phillip Danault to the Montreal Canadiens for Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann. The move was made for the Blackhawks to round out their forward group in the same trading period the ‘Hawks moved Marko Dano and a first-round pick to acquire Andrew Ladd.

Weise contributed one point (an assist) in 15 regular-season games with the ‘Hawks and one goal in four playoff games. Fleischmann had four goals and one assist in 19 regular-season games in Chicago and didn’t tally a point in four playoff games. Weise left Chicago the following offseason, and Fleischmann retired.

In 154 games in Montreal, Danault has 24 goals, 46 assists, a 54.2 percent Corsi-for, 4.2 relative Corsi and is 52.4 percent at the faceoff dot. He is currently 24 years old.

Moving forward, the summer of 2016 came and Bowman was once again in a pickle. Seabrook’s new contract was kicking in, as well as Anisimov and Marcus Kruger’s new deals. In total, the new deals for a 30-year-old defenseman, a center only winning 44 percent of his draws, and a fourth-line center known mainly for penalty killing were going to cost the Blackhawks an additional $3.925 million on the 2016-17 salary cap. Where would Bowman find an extra $4 million to unload?

The answer was Bryan Bickell, whose play had declined since his amazing 2013 playoffs (it must be noted that at the time it was not known the serious medical issues the winger had). But with Bickell’s play down, a team was not going to take on the final year of his contract at $4 million for free. So it cost the Blackhawks their best young player, Teuvo Teravainen, to get the Carolina Hurricanes to agree to take on Bickell’s contract.

In his 148 games since joining Carolina, Teravainen has 34 goals and 60 assists, averaging 0.64 points per game. The 52 points he has thus far this year is second to only Kane out of the entire Blackhawks roster. He also signed a two-year bridge deal last season that is only costing the Hurricanes $2.86 million a year through next season.

Obviously, to have seen all of this coming out of one deal would be impossible for any general manager. Even blaming all of this on the Seabrook deal would be far too simplistic. But the Seabrook contract is absolutely a contributing factor to all of this. Who knows if Danault, Panarin or Teuvo would still be with the ‘Hawks if that mega-deal wasn’t signed, but it sure is interesting (albeit painful) to daydream about.

If Bowman continues to overpay when re-signing and extending player contracts, the Blackhawks will never be able to escape so many of the cap issues they find themselves in. Funny that I am writing this as the Blackhawks announce that Bowman has just extended Erik Gustafsson and Jan Rutta over the last two days to the tune of $3.45 million next season.

Is there a solution?

The predicament the ‘Hawks find themselves in now (a non-playoff team trying to become younger and better that is strapped with long and expensive contracts) has many people calling for the team to trade Seabrook. Of course, for those that believe moving Seabrook is the most logical next step, there are certainly many issues with doing that.

First off, Seabrook has a no-trade clause. That’s right, he not only got an insane contract, but he also gets to decide if he wants to go to a team the Blackhawks can actually get to agree on a deal. Just another piece to Bowman’s poor negotiating on this contract.

Second, the cost of trading Seabrook, even if he agrees to be traded, may be more than anyone is willing to accept. Would you be willing to include Alex DeBrincat in a deal just to get Seabrook off the books? Would you be willing to include a top-8 pick in this year’s draft and another prospect to get the deal done? Those is just two examples, and both may not be enough for a team to agree to a deal.

Last, if the Blackhawks are able to move the contract by including some other pieces, who are you bringing in to play defense in the interim? Outside of John Carlson, the free agent market is incredibly limited this season. Trade for Erik Karlsson, you say? Well, what pieces do you have left to acquire him now that you used all your capital to get rid of Seabrook?

Yes, there are other defensive names out there that aren’t some type of variation of the name Carlson, but the Blackhawks truly are stuck between a rock and a hard place with this deal. The contract has played a major factor in the loss of young talent throughout the last few years and continues to plague the team moving forward. There does not seem to be a good solution anyway you look at it.

Next: Have the Blackhawks Been a Fad?

Sometimes, ripping off the bandaid as fast as possible is the best way to solve your problems. But this contract is going to leave a scar for years to come. Things certainly may get worse before they can get better.

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