The Chicago Blackhawks have backed themselves into a corner. The current roster is a mess, there is no clear management team and serious decisions have to be made. Most think that the Hawks should have begun the rebuild two years ago. Former GM Stan Bowman decided to retool instead and add to an aging, depleted roster.
That decision has put the Blackhawks in a far worse position than they were two years ago. So, is it even possible to "blow this team up" and start over? Moves can be made, but it's likely a year away. Let's look at the contracts and the untouchables.
Right now, the NHL salary cap is $81.5 million. That could change next year, but for now we will go with that number. Next year the Blackhawks have $21 million tied up in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. There is no way they are trading Kane, and it's unlikely that they will trade Toews out of respect. If they did move Toews, the Hawks would have to eat partial salary. Don't look for this, so we will start with $21 million off the table.
Next, the Blackhawks signed defenseman Seth Jones to a nine year contract. Until 2029-2030, Chicago is on the hook for $9.5 million. If his contract was a little lighter, the Blackhawks would have the potential to trade him. At that price and those years, it's unlikely the Blackhawks would have any takers for him now. So, add that $9.5 to $21 for Toews and Kane and you get three players counting $30.5 milllion of the cap.
Those are the only contracts that are likely unmovable. However, the contract for Alex DeBrincat represents one of the few that the Hawks don't want to move. The Cat is young, and he is the Blackhawks best goal scorer. He is worth every bit of his $6.4 million contract. He has one more year on his deal, and he will likely demand a little more next year. This writer thinks that DeBrincat is the most important piece for the Hawks to build around.
Tyler Johnson makes $5 million and has two more years on his contract. He recently had neck surgery and is expected to return before the end of the season. Chicago will be unable to move this contract because of the uncertain nature of that injury. The Hawks can count on his cap hit for at least another year. Add that to the previous four and we get $41.9 million against the cap- over half of the total available.
After those five, Marc-Andre Fleury, Connor Murphy, Jake McCabe, Dominik Kubalik, Dylan Strome and Brett Connolly represent the remaining largest salaries. If the Blackhawks want to "blow up" this roster, this is where it has to happen. Fleury is an easy one. He is a likely candidate for a number of teams looking for a goalie in the playoffs. He is a UFA so it makes sense for the Hawks to work hard to move him over the next four weeks. If Chicago play their cards right, they could reclaim that first round pick they desperately need.
Connor Murphy is the next player with a ton of potential in trade. Murphy is set to make $4.4 million over the next four years. He is currently playing strong hockey, especially when it comes to hits and blocks. He would be a welcome addition to a playoff team hoping to shore up the back end. He, too, could potentially gain a solid prospect or pick for the Blackhawks.
Dominik Kubalik is next on the list. He is in the last year of his contract and is making $3.7 million. He is a restricted free agent, so the Blackhawks don't have to be desperate at the trade deadline. Kubalik is likely gone, and should bring a nice prospect in return while saving valuable cash against the cap. So, moving Fleury, Murphy and Kubalik could save Chicago $15.1 million against the cap and add some much needed depth in the prospect pool.
Jake McCabe is an interesting case for the Blackhawks. He currently makes $4 million against the cap and is on contract for the next three years. He came to Chicago with high hopes, but has not lived up to that hype. The Blackhawks would be wise to move him if possible. it won't be nearly as easy to move him as it is with Fleury, Murphy and Kubalik. However, as he is a defensive defenseman, he could be a fit for a playoff team. The Hawks should be willing to eat part of his contract if that's what it takes.
Dylan Strome has seemingly been shopped all season. Prior to Derek King taking over, Strome was frequently scratched, leaving Blackhawks fans wondering what's going on. Strome is in his last year of his contract that pays him $3 million. Lately, Strome has made a case for the Blackhawks to keep him. It's true that Chicago could likely trade Strome, but the return would likely not equal what they currently have with Strome. Because he is 24, finding his place in the top six, and likely to get equal or less than his current salary, Chicago should keep Strome and build around him and DeBrincat.
Brett Connolly makes $3.5 million per year, but has not lived up to that contract. He has one more year on his contract. The Blackhawks may have to live with this one. In 18 games with Chicago, Connolly has only managed 2 points. He might be able to help a team with depth in the bottom six, but it's not likely that a team will want to pay his contract.
From there, contract lengths are short and salary is cheap. The only player worth mentioning here is Brandon Hagel. He is on contract for two more years at $1.5 million. Hagel is only 23 and a steal at that price. The Blackhawks need to shield him and add him to the Strome and Debrincat rebuild. The only way Chicago should consider moving Hagel is if they could get a top ten first round pick and another solid prospect.
Every other player on the Blackhawks makes $1 million or less. The only one who might be able to pull in a prospect or two is Erik Gustafsson. The Hawks should most certainly move him by the deadline. Everyone else is essentially a prospect who will be replaced by another prospect.
The Chicago Blackhawks definitely have some moves they can make, but they are one year from being able to really "blow this team up." The contracts in place will keep Chicago from going all in on a rebuild. My guess is that the new GM will do a retool this year and then go all in next year when the Kane and Toews contracts expire.