Implications of the potential salary cap growth for the Blackhawks

Kyle Davidson at 2022 NHL Draft
Kyle Davidson at 2022 NHL Draft / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

Per Elliotte Friedman, the NHL’s salary cap could potentially reach approximately $92 million by 2026In a crucial rebuilding period, what could this mean for the Blackhawks? On September 27th, Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) and Rory Boylen published an article on Sportsnet’s website detailing a possible significant increase in the NHL’s salary cap. The article highlights the idea that by the 2025-2026 season, the salary cap could hit approximately $92 million.

Friedman attributes this to the league’s recovery from COVID-19. The pandemic tanked the league’s yearly revenue with fan restrictions and fewer games being played. Ever since the NHL–and the world–has returned back to “normal,” sales have gone back up, allowing an increase in the salary cap.

Quick Rundown of the current contracts of the Blackhawks

Going into the 2022-23 season, the salary cap sits at $82.5 million. According to CapFriendly, the Blackhawks are currently using approximately $75 million of their cap hit, leading to $7.5 million in cap space. At the moment, the three biggest contracts are:Jonathan Toews for $10.5 million, Patrick Kane for $10.5 million, and Seth Jones for $9.5 million.

In total, those three contracts eat up roughly 37% of the Hawks’ available cap. Not ideal, however, there is a chance Toews and Kane will be traded before the end of the season, giving the Blackhawks some cap space in return. There is no guarantee that Toews and Kane’s return will not carry any contracts (for example, Kane returning a salary-dump contract in addition to picks), but it is very likely that the Blackhawks will have a positive gain in salary cap in both trades.

Could the Blackhawks move Seth Jones?

Not a potential trade candidate, Seth Jones is a different story. Though there were rumors of the Blackhawks seeking to move Jones, realistically, his contract is too big to take on. Fortunately, as Friedman projects, the salary cap could increase by nearly $10 million over the next four years. As of now, Jones’s contract accounts for approximately 12% of the Blackhawks’ cap.

If the salary cap were to reach Friedman’s projection, that percentage would drop to 10%. Regardless of how small a 2% decrease seems, Jones’s contract will not be as much of a detriment. Alongside the salary cap increasing, player salaries will increase.

For example, young defensemen like Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes are making $9 million and $7.85 million respectively. When they both signed their current contracts in 2021, they were both considered two of the best defensemen in the league, leading to them receiving contracts that are considered large with today’s salary cap.

In 2027, when both of their contracts expire, they’ll likely receive contracts a few million dollars larger than their current contracts. This is because the standard contract for good defensemen will increase since teams will have the ability to pay these defensemen more money. In summary, Seth Jones’s contract–which expires in 2030–will not bare as much weight as it does now compared to other defensemen. As of now, Jones is the 4th highest-paid defenseman in the league. By 2027, this should not be the case.

Potential for the Blackhawks to sign key players

In the future, there will be the need to sign players to large contracts. In the future, high draft picks like Lukas Reichel, Kevin Korchinski, and Frank Nazar will need bigger contracts if they pan out. That won’t be for at least three years, though. With a higher salary cap, there will be more room for the Hawks to sign players in the future.

By the time the Hawks are competitive again–likely four or five years, minimum–talented players like Clayton Keller, Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Cale Makar, Nico Hischier, Miro Heiskanen, and many more will be UFAs. Obviously, the Blackhawks won’t pursue all of these players, but they are just an example of potential signees to complete the Blackhawks’ future roster.

When the time comes and the rebuild is nearly complete, young and talented UFA’s will likely be the last piece the Hawks will need to be competitive again. With the increasing salary cap, there is a lot of opportunity for the Blackhawks to rebuild their roster. This window came at a great time for a rebuild, new GM Kyle Davidson will have a lot of money to work with.