The Blackhawks' Cap Situation for the 23-24 Season
By Kyle Graden
Patrick Kane has moved on and it looks like Jonathan Toews is in his final few weeks as a Blackhawk as well. A new era of Chicago hockey is clearly upon us now. With a huge day in franchise history soon to commence (May 6th draft lottery), we could start see how GM Kyle Davidson will use his cap space.
Now if the Blackhawks get one of the first 2 selections, I firmly believe more money is spent sooner rather than later. I, however, will operate this exercise based on the plan that we have been abiding by thus far.
The NHL hard cap limit for next season should be at 83.5 million. The minimum spending on a roster (or cap floor) should be around 61-62 million then. Despite a flurry of ELC's signed of late (Kaiser, Rolston, Ludwinski amongst the more notable) Chicago will only have projected expenditure in the 43-44 million range at present.
So where do we spend that necessary money to both fill out the roster and form the best possible group of players? Looking at the positions on the team our defense looks to be a group where no outside additions should be made. Seth Jones, Connor Murphy, and Nikita Zaitsev all are veterans under contract leaving 3 spots to either young blue liners or UFA additions.
Looking at the options for the 3 spots I see 2 RFA players in Ian Mitchell and Caleb Jones for just 1 of the spots. I believe Ian Mitchell will likely move on and Caleb Jones will be playing in the 23-24 season after having his option picked up. The second scenario I see is with Tinordi and Englund (both UFA). I believe at least one of them will be back with a possibility of each of them being re-signed. Veteran minimum deals (2 way for Englund) is what I believe will happen. That should leave at least 1 full time defensive spot for the likes of Phillips, Vlasic, Kaiser and potentially Kevin Korchinski.
With injuries, a long season, and what will likely be another busy trade deadline, I expect one of the young defensive players to play all year while another to grab ahold of a spot mid way through the season.
From a forwards perspective, next season will look much like what we are currently seeing. Toews, Khaira, and Athanasiou are all but assured of moving on at this point leaving at least 3 spots in the rotation available for next year. I truly believe, albeit rare, that Max Domi re-signing is at the forefront of Kyle Davidsons' checklist. Domi is a skilled top 9 flex forward on most teams, for us though he is a leader and a top line scorer.
The progression of Lukas Reichel must be linear with honing his skills with other top end talents. Playing with Domi could be exactly what Reichel needs at this stage of his development. A 3 year / 15 million deal is what I would offer. Other NHL teams likely have him in that 3.5-4.25m range at 1 or 2 years and I believe Chicago would offer that extra term and money to get Max back.
I believe a similar scenario will unfold when it comes to free agency with Davidson signing 2 or 3 forwards in that 1 year 2-3m range much like he did with Domi and Athanasiou prior. That would make around 3.5m in defensive additions and around 12 million in forwards added. That would put us around the 58-59m cap range.
From a goalie viewpoint we only have Mrazeks' salary on the books. Depending on what we want to do with Soderblom, the Hawks are likely to sign a veteran goalie for the league minimum or around a million as a cap hit. Let's say that the Blackhawks with these moves is right at 60m, or just under the cap floor.
It would be at the draft or free agency where I see Kyle Davidson start to weaponize his cap space and look at taking on an expiring high AAV player. Much like he did with Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver it is likely that the cap hit added to go over the cap floor is accompanied with a draft asset.
This is how I see the team in 23-24. The young players are given all the opportunities to improve their stock in the NHL, combined with low term veteran forwards and a defensive makeup of half veteran and 1/2 young talents. The stability of a Max Domi would go a long way to helping Lukas Reichel as well. I believe this is the rare situation where a player comes back after being dealt.
While it isn't exciting, next year could be more of the same, but with an emphasis on truly determining whom is going to stick with this team long term. Could a Connor Bedard speed up the spending? Absolutely, but let's not bank on that just yet...