Salary-Cap Maneuvering Around the NHL Will Help Chicago Blackhawks' Rebuild
It's worth starting this piece by saying that the Chicago Blackhawks paid an extortionate price for Seth Jones. He was expected to be a top-pairing defenseman and he did play well, but one player does not a contending team make. Only time will tell what the full scope of that trade was, but at least for today, the price paid was a dear one. Losing what everyone now knows to be the 6th overall pick, and then some, in the draft is a disaster for a rebuilding team like Chicago. Trades and free agency as the only real options for Chicago moving forward to next year.
People can present it any way they want, but the Jones trade was a harsh blow to Chicago's short-term plans. Charlie Roumeliotis has an article for NBC saying that losing the 2022 pick was better than the 2023 pick, which may be true, but it feels like someone trying to spin a bad situation. According to Roumeliotis, the 2023 draft pool is deeper and better than the 2022 pool. I guess that counts for something, but frankly, I'd rather have the 32nd pick in the first round of 2022 than no pick at all.
That's just me though, and the bottom line is Chicago needs to work around this hole in their draft plan to improve the team. The Chicago Blackhawks finished with a record of 28-42-12, which gave them 68 points. It's worth reflecting on the disaster that was this most recent season, but those team numbers could also be a look into the crystal ball for 2022-23. Chicago will be bad next year. Probably really bad. That's OK, but it will make being a fan a bit of a slog for 82 games.
I take solace in all of this by looking at a team like Columbus, and knowing that they'll be in salary cap hell in just a couple of years. They won't be able to sign all of their most talented players to big contracts. People will need to get moved, and this is where Chicago will benefit. I'm not saying that players will come back to the Blackhawks, but once teams are forced to make tough choices rebuilding teams like Chicago typically reap the most rewards.
Those money problems will be the perfect opportunity for Chicago to take a gamble on players looking to turn things around, or aging stars looking for a team that will give them another deal. A team such as the Montreal Canadiens could be a good partner for Chicago. Not only was Montreal terrible for the duration of the 2021-22 season, but Montreal also has some serious cap issues to resolve. Two contracts, specifically those of Shea Weber and Carey Price may have become especially problematic for the Habs' head office. Those two combine for something like 18,000,000 of cap space. Wouldn't Montreal love to be out from under those financial burdens?
Former Montreal GM Marc Bergevin had previously said that Weber would likely never play again. That's the kind of bad contract, with expected "sweeteners", a rebuilding team like Chicago can take on. Weber becomes a UFA as of 2026-27. That might seem like a long time, but that cap hit could help keep Chicago stay at the cap minimum while bringing younger players into the league over the next few years.
""We’re going to look at more of a rebuild here," Davidson said. "There are some things that we really need to fix that are going to take time. We're not going to put a timeline on it, whether it's three, five [years], I don’t have that answer right now. That will be determined as we proceed. "But we really need to do this the right way and we're going to stick to the plan and take our time with it and make sure that when we get to where we want to go, then it was the result of a plan that was stuck to and not deviated from.""- Blackhawks' GM Kyle Davidson
Essentially, the rebuild takes the time it takes according to Davidson. I believe that three years would probably be unreasonably fast, but by five years the team should be showing clear improvement. Weber's deal will have run its course by then.
Montreal's superstar goalie has a similar term on his mega-deal, despite having missed almost an entire season due to injury and substance abuse. Carey Price could be an interesting option because Chicago doesn't have a goalie with NHL experience under contract for next season besides Arvid Soderblom-a player that has barely played with the Blackhawks. Having Price wind down his NHL career in Chicago would be a way to solve a few problems at once, although it's unclear how realistic this scenario is after only playing in five games for 2021-22.
It's worth noting that Price comes with an eye-watering 10.5 million dollar cap hit, as do Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. However, the two stalwart Blackhawks vets are due new deals in a year, and neither is worth the amount they are currently making, especially not Toews. Cap space is opening up for Chicago, and soon. The Blackhawks could try and take on Price, even though it's very possible the goalie ends up not playing much. Price has been a phenomenal talent that could, at the very least, help mentor someone like Soderblom.
Negotiating with a team like Montreal is just one example of how Chicago could modify its lineup beyond drafting. Since Chicago won't have a first-round pick for the upcoming draft, but still will need to solve many roster issues, like who is going to be the goalie next year, free agency or trading are pretty much the only options the team will have. Looking to make deals with other teams might be the best option to consider in the first instance, especially if those trade partners are having cap issues.