If you want to make a deal in today’s NHL, there are several important hurdles to get past. The most important one may be the salary cap situation around the league, which is squeezed as tightly as ever after the cap ceiling stayed at $81.5MM. That number isn’t expected to go up for the next several seasons, meaning teams are hesitant to take on any money this season or into the future.
That is, other than the Chicago Blackhawks.
Two different reports have emerged this evening, from Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet and Frank Seravalli of TSN respectively, explaining that the Blackhawks have let the rest of the league know they are willing to take on some bad cap at the deadline to facilitate moves or acquire assets. After moving Brent Seabrook to long-term injured reserve and admitting his career is over the team now has more than $20MM in potential cap space that they could use this season. A good portion of that can’t be used if Jonathan Toews is going to come back at any point, but that still leaves the Blackhawks with more than enough room to play matchmaker at the deadline if they want.
The Blackhawks are familiar with this strategy, given they used the Toronto Maple Leafs in a similar fashion last season to complete the Robin Lehner trade. The Maple Leafs were already deep into LTIR by the time the trade deadline rolled around, so they were used as a pit stop to unload part of Lehner’s remaining cap hit so the Vegas Golden Knights could fit him in. The Maple Leafs received a fifth-round pick for their trouble, but depending on what it is Chicago is taking on, the return could be even greater this time around.
As we discussed recently, the Blackhawks are in a peculiar situation this season, sitting somewhere between a buyer and seller. The team is currently in a playoff spot thanks to some surprising performances, but aren’t that far removed from declaring a short rebuild. It’s hard to imagine them believing they are really capable of contending for the Stanley Cup or even getting out of the Central Division given how strong the top three teams look, but stripping things down when you’re in a playoff spot also isn’t fair to a team that has performed so admirably this season.
By doing moves like the one detailed above, acting as a middle-man for teams, or a dumping ground for bad cap, the Blackhawks can give this group a chance to compete while also adding assets for the future.