Blackhawks should take advantage of their cap space (and other teams)

Corey Crawford, Dylan Strome, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Corey Crawford, Dylan Strome, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

As of November 27, 2020, approximately a third of the NHL’s teams are over the salary cap, but the Blackhawks are not one of them.

Big deal, right? Wouldn’t it be better if they were right at the limit, but actually going to be serious Cup contenders? Yes, but sadly they aren’t. The Blackhawks are a rebuilding team with cap space. This might not seem like even a small ray of sunshine given the current state of the team, but it could prove to be very fortuitous for Chicago. Trades, at the expense of other teams, are likely coming.

When the Chicago Blackhawks acquired Nikita Zadorov, people were justified in criticizing the deal because there weren’t any picks or prospects included in the package that came to Chicago. A rebuilding team needs more than a single NHL defenseman to improve its long-term success. However, Chicago now has cap space, and likely will for the next few years. This puts them in a good spot to manage the flat cap, but that’s not all.

According to CapFriendly, there are 10 teams currently over the NHL’s upper cap limit. There are also an additional six teams that have less than two million in cap space, and the season hasn’t even started.

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That’s half the league that has zero or very little flexibility to paper over the cracks that could be caused by injuries, something every team needs to deal with every year. Obviously, this is going to have to be sorted by the start of the next season, whenever that comes.

ESPN and other outlets have reported that the January 1st start date for the next season has yet to be confirmed. However, should that tentative date remain in place, then there’s basically the month of December for teams to get their stuff together for the 2020-2021 season. Chicago can help make that happen, for a price.

The Blackhawks have a situation where the organization said outright that they weren’t going to be competitive.  Despite that, they still have too many players, not enough roster spots, but plenty of cap space. Unless Bowman starts shipping players out, there is no clear path for prospects or new signings like Ian Mitchell or Pius Suter to realistically compete for a roster spot. Something has to give.

In an interview with NBC’s Charlie Roumeliotis, Bowman basically said trades were likely.

"While Bowman said the team is probably done adding players via free agency, general managers are always talking trade.“There’s still teams calling around, more trade discussions now,” Bowman said. “There are still some free agents on the market, but I think most teams are looking at their team maybe seeing, ‘would a trade make more sense?’ There’s certainly some concern league-wide with cap space. I know we’re in a pretty good spot from that perspective. There’s a handful of teams that have a lot of cap room and then there’s over half the league that’s right up against it, so they may be looking to move some pieces around.”"

That sounds like Bowman is already looking at some of those teams to strike a deal. Chicago’s cap space can be used to take on bad contracts other teams don’t want on their books. The only real question would be, who is going to be leaving Chicago?

Now that Saad has been traded there aren’t many players left that will fetch a decent return. Connor Murphy makes the most sense because of the logjam on defense, but moving him would likely set the already shaky defense back even further. Strome’s name is likely to come up, but the team extended him a qualifying offer. It could be a sign and trade deal, but with Chicago looking to the future, Strome is too valuable an asset.

At forward there aren’t many roster players beyond Ryan Carpenter or Andrew Shaw that would be likely to be moved. Everyone is else is too young, too new, or too valuable. Forget about Zack Smith. He’s recovering from back surgery and no one is going to come calling about him. Beyond Murphy, on defense are players like Calvin de Haan and Nick Seeler, or prospects such as Chad Krys and Brad Morrison.

Additionally, Chicago needs to be ready for the expansion draft, and there will need to be players available to be acquired by Seattle. Regardless of who it is, the smart thing to do would be for Chicago to take on a bad contract (or two), and collect picks and prospects in exchange.

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The players that leave probably aren’t going to be ones that will matter to Chicago’s long-term plans, but that wouldn’t be the reason to make a deal now anyway. If Chicago makes a trade at this point it should be to make use of their cap space, and not about the opening night roster for 2020-2021.

It would be great if Bowman became a little more aggressive, and was able to extort a good pick or prospect in exchange for some other team’s salary dump. It wasn’t long ago that Chicago was in the opposite position. Hopefully, it won’t be long before the depth is replenished and Chicago is back on top, and this period now could be where that begins.