The Chicago Blackhawks’ management will have to take a deep, long look in the mirror this off-season. Their core is locked up and in their primes. With an offense boasting Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, grizzled Marian Hossa, and a resurgent Artem Anisimov, there were many predictions around the league for Chicago to reclaim another cup. Instead, the comparatively deep lineup Nashville iced completely dominated Chicago, sending them packing in a 4 game sweep – the first ever time an “8th seed” has swept a “1 seed”.
This is an analysis of Chicago’s cap frustrations, and what has led to them.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane each account for $10.5 MM towards the team cap, and are both under contract until the 2022-23 season. With a cap ceiling that is expected to remain in the ballpark of its current $73 MM, this is a massive $21 MM, 28.8% of the team total. In past seasons, contributions from players on ELCs and cheap one-to-two year deals made this issue far less concerning. Success will do a lot to mask poor planning on management’s part.
Looking at their roster situation next year, the squad looks something like this (numbers represent $MM towards cap):
Nick Schmaltz (0.925) – Jonathan Toews (10.5) – Marian Hossa (5.275)
Artemi Panarin (6.0) – Artem Anisimov (4.550) – Patrick Kane (10.5)
Michal Roszival (0.650)
Corey Crawford (6.0)
A few things to note: there are still 4 likely vacancies on this roster, and the team would probably prefer to have at least one more extra skater on hand for the season. Before the RFA contracts are negotiated, this comes to a total of $67.307 MM already spent. Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya are not likely to return, considering the former’s price and the latter’s struggles. Roszival is not likely to be trusted with 7th defenseman duties. With Panik’s stellar season, he is nearly sure to command a sizable raise. The 26 year-old had what can only be described an incredibly over-achieving breakthrough – he notched 44 points, 22 of which were goals. The expectation should be that, even under team-friendly RFA negotiations, he will earn upwards of $2 MM, likely in the $2.5 MM range. Assuming the other two RFAs (Rasmussen and Kempny) receive somewhere around $1 MM each, this brings the grand total to $71.807 MM with at least 3 slots to fill, probably 4.
From here, Chicago could go one of two routes. They could try to fill out the remaining spots with the absolutely cheapest possible players, and hope they strike gold with another prospect or free agent. They went down this road last year, and one could reasonably assume they may not have liked the results. The other option would be to move a sizable contract out in the name of increased depth. A few options would be Seabrook or Hjalmarrson on the back-end, or perhaps Hossa up front. Although the captain’s relative cost efficiency is arguably not good, I don’t see a scenario where the Windy City management would be willing to move on from Toews. Anisimov’s play and chemistry with Kane at a cheap 2C price-tag make him unlikely to be moved, and Kruger was just signed to a cost-efficient deal.
It should be noted that if Chicago would be (for whatever reason) unable to move a contract, they could opt to leave a player unprotected for Vegas to take. This is not a likely scenario, however. Many believe that van Riemsdyk will be left unprotected, but exposing such a cheap and effective youngster seems counter-productive at this point. The problem with ditching Seabrook or Hjalmarrson is that it opens up a huge hole that is not likely to be filled much cheaper – top 4 defensemen don’t come cheap, especially considering this year’s limited UFA class. Hossa, it should be noted, has a No Movement Clause, which would severely complicate any sort of transaction involving the veteran winger.
Decisions lie aheaad for Chicago management, and the decisions may be even tougher than they were after their Cup win in 2010. That off-season, they were forced into moving Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, and Kris Versteeg. Those tough decisions laid the groundwork for their next two titles. This is the cost of success in the post-cap era, and Chicago will again need to make sacrifices if they wish to see any more.