The Chicago Blackhawks had money to spend this offseason and they spent it. Next summer, the salary cap could be an issue.
The Blackhawks began this offseason in a better salary cap situation than in years past, but General Manager, Stan Bowman, has quickly squandered that.
Before we get started here, it’s worth noting that all salary and contract related numbers in this article come from CapFriendly.
If you’d like to follow along at home, you can find the Chicago Blackhawks’ page here. If you’ve never used CapFriendly before, it’s a great tool for all NHL contract and salary cap related questions.
According to CapFriendly, Chicago has $3.34 million for 10 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies, which means they’ll need to add several forwards to the roster.
Unless he’s traded, one of these slots will belong to Brendan Perlini, who is facing restricted free agency this summer.
The Blackhawks are set up nicely for this season without any more roster tinkering, but some tough decisions will come next offseason when some important contracts end.
First, and foremost, Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat will be facing restricted free agency and will be owed hefty raises. Drake Caggiula and Erik Gustafsson’s team-friendly contracts are also set to expire.
The biggest priority for the Blackhawks’ GM must be getting the Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat contract extensions finished.
DeBrincat will prove especially difficult; the impressive young winger has already scored 69 goals in just two NHL seasons.
It’s not a perfect comparison, but DeBrincat scored 5 fewer goals than Auston Matthews did his first two seasons and Matthews is now making over $11 million. The bottom line is DeBrincat is going to cost the Blackhawks a small fortune.
Strome is far trickier to predict. Due to the rough start to his career, Strome may be in line to get a bridge deal; it’s going to hinge on how he performs this season though.
If he has a monster season and continues to progress, Chicago may be forced to forgo the bridge deal and sign him to something long term.
In order to make room for both Strome and DeBrincat, the Blackhawks are going to want a minimum of $15 million in salary cap space available, though likely a good deal more.
Drake Caggiula and Erik Gustafsson
Drake Caggiula is another tricky case. On one hand, he seems in line for a raise from the $1.5 million he’s currently earning. On the other, his stats don’t exactly agree.
If Caggiula has a strong season, he could be moved at the trade deadline or his rights could be traded in the offseason when he faces restricted free agency.
It will be an interesting story to follow. If Caggiula can be signed at a reasonable rate though, he would be great to hold on to.
Gustafsson’s breakout season last year has made him due for a big raise as well. If his success continues this season, the Blackhawks would be wise to sell high on him.
Prospect, Adam Boqvist, is the perfect player to replace him and Chicago won’t be able to afford what he can command in free agency next summer.
Unlike Caggiula, Strome, and DeBrincat, Gustafsson will become an unrestricted free agent. The Blackhawks risk losing Gustafsson for nothing if they don’t figure out what to do with him in season.
Losing Gustafsson was also much more manageable before Henri Jokiharju was traded to Buffalo.
Slater Koekkoek is also set to be a restricted free agent, but he isn’t nearly as important, or costly, compared to everyone else mentioned in this article.
The goaltending position brings both good and bad news. The good news is there will be two big contracts coming off the books; Crawford and Lehner make a combined $11 million AAV.
The bad news is there’s almost no way both goaltenders will be resigned next offseason. Barring a major trade, letting both Crawford and Lehner walk in free agency might be the Blackhawks’ best bet in resigning Strome and DeBrincat.
If that’s what Chicago chooses to do though, it would raise major question marks in net the following season.
The NHL salary cap goes up with each passing year, but it’s typically only about an additional $2 million per season.
Assuming that number stays the same, or at least close to it, the salary cap looks like it will be in the range of $83.5 million to $85 million.
For this demonstration, we’ll go worst-case scenario and call it $83.5 million.
The Blackhawks currently have $3,336,539 in cap space available. Strome, DeBrincat, Caggiula, Gustafsson, Koekkoek, Crawford and Lehner will all come off the books at a combined $16,266,666. That, combined with the current space available and the cap increase, adds up to $21,603,205.
If Chicago’s GM somehow manages to sign DeBrincat and Strome to $15 million AAV combined, which is both impressive and the best-case scenario, that would leave the organization with $6,603,205 for two goalies, three forwards, and two defensemen.
Collin Delia figures to be one of those goalies and he’s inked to a 3-year, $3 mil (1 million AAV) deal. Boqvist would likely take one of the spots on defense; he’d come in at a modest $894,167.
That leaves the ‘Hawks with $4,709,038 for three forwards, a goalie, and a defenseman. If Lehner has another great season like he did last year, the Blackhawks won’t be able to afford him anymore.
If Crawford’s injury issues continue this year, he may retire after this season. These conditions make Chicago’s goalie situation look grim.
The last defender almost certainly will not be Gustafsson if he continues the pace he set last season, as the Blackhawks won’t be able to fit him in under the salary cap.
The forwards should be easier to deal with considering their top-6 will be set and Kirby Dach will be waiting in the wings on his entry-level contract. With big question marks in goal and along the blue line though, the organization will have some tough decisions to make next summer.