There is one offseason event that quickly becoming an annual rite of passage, the Chicago Blackhawks and their efforts to stay under the salary cap. For the last few offseasons, Chicago has been forced to trade several quality players in order to keep the core of their Stanley Cup contending (or winning, depending on the year) team together.
Some recent cap casualties include forwards Michael Frolik and Dave Bolland (2013), defenseman Nick Leddy (2014), wingers Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, and Kris Versteeg (2015), and, most recently, winger Teuvo Teravainen being included as a sweetener to get rid of winger Bryan Bickell’s contract this past summer while Andrew Shaw was dealt to Montreal.
The re-signing of left winger Artemi Panarin to a two year, $12MM contract will allow the Blackhawks to keep one of the top scorers in the league in the fold but in doing so, have increased their payroll commitments for next season to quite a high amount with still a lot of roster spots to be filled. Here’s a look at their committed contracts for next year, according to CapFriendly:
Patrick Kane – $10.5MM
Jonathan Toews – $10.5MM
Artemi Panarin – $6MM
Marian Hossa – $5.275MM
Artem Anisimov – $4.55MM
Marcus Kruger: $3.083MM
Tyler Motte: $925K
Ryan Hartman: $863K
Vinnie Hinostroza: $718K
Corey Crawford – $6MM
Combined, they have over $66MM committed for only 15 players. That amount also doesn’t include what could a considerably high bonus overage (over $3MM if Panarin joins Brian Campbell in hitting his bonuses while other rookies could hit some as well). Add to that the fact that the minimum salary is jumping up by $75K to $650K next year and it’s clear that Bowman has some work to do.
Many are speculating that Kruger is a near-lock to be moved at some point, either via trade or the expansion draft in June. His contract isn’t particularly onerous given what he brings to the table but considering Chicago has been cutting out the mid-tier players to keep their pricey ones, he’s the first logical domino to fall.
If the salary cap doesn’t increase much from the current $73MM as is expected to be the case, moving out his salary may not be enough though which would make it much more likely that Bowman would have to tinker with his core. There are plenty of opinions on who would be the best fit to go in that situation but none of them are particularly ideal.
There’s no immediate rush for this to be dealt with as Chicago has until the start of next season to be in cap compliance, giving them more than nine months to work with. But it will undoubtedly be in the back of Bowman’s mind as he starts to map out his plan for next year as well as the remainder of this season as the conference-leading Blackhawks look to make another long playoff push.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.