Morning Papers Take: How will the Blackhawks fit everyone under the cap?

Posted by Richard Pollock in Columns,Features,Morning Papers take,NHL Morning Papers on November 18, 2009 — 9 Comments

In this morning’s Western Conference Morning Papers, Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune reported some news from TSN on the expected contract extensions for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith:

With just some loose ends to tie up, Toews and Kane are expected to sign five-year deals worth $6 million annually, according to TSN in Canada.

Defenseman Duncan Keith will sign a 13-year deal, also according to TSN, for less money annually.

Thus the club will keep the potential restricted free agents long term.

Meantime, Tim Sassone of the Daily Herald voiced concern over the team’s ability to fit everyone under the salary cap:

Nobody wants to think about the potential financial problems that lie ahead.

The Hawks already have 12 players signed for next season with a collective cap hit of approximately $42.4 million.

Even if the cap hits for Keith, Toews and Kane were, say, $5 million each, and that’s low, it would put the Hawks over the present NHL salary cap of $56.8 million for 15 players.

The cap might go lower next season, or it could stay the same. There’s little chance it will go higher than $56.8 million.

So, where do the Hawks stand?  I have absolutely no issues with the team’s expected signings of Toews, Kane and Keith.  Kane is their most prolific forward, Duncan Keith is one of the best defenseman in the NHL and Toews will soon become a force in the NHL.

Let’s take a look at the team’s salary commitments for next season (prior to any extension announcements regarding the players above), courtesy of nhlnumbers.com:

Marian Hossa: $7.9 million (cap hit: $5.233 million)

Patrick Sharp: $4.2 million (cap hit: $3.9 million)

Dave Bolland: $3.375 million (cap hit: same)

Kris Versteeg: $3.083 million (cap hit: same)

Dustin Byfuglien: $3.0 million (cap hit: same)

Tomas Kopecky: $1.2 million (cap hit: same)

Troy Bouwer: $1.0 million (cap hit: same)

Brian Campbell: $7.140 million (cap hit: same)

Brent Seabrook: $3.5 million (cap hit: same)

Cam Barker: $3.125 million (cap hit: $3.083 million)

Brent Sopel: $2.0 million (cap hit: $2.33 million)

Cristobal Huet: $5.625 million (cap hit: same)

From this list, Cristobal Huet, Brian Campbell and Brent Sopel are basically untradeable.  Huet has two more years on his deal after this season and, unless the Hawks include prospects/draft picks along with him in a trade, no one will take that deal on.  If that contract looks untradeable, Brian Campbell is on the books for four more seasons.  I don’t even think anyone would take that contract on even with picks/prospects.  As for Sopel, where is his agent?  That man deserves a serious congratulations.  I mean, how did Sopel get this deal in the first place?  Regardless, the Hawks wouldn’t waste a prospect or pick to get rid of him, they’d probably buy him out first or send him to the minors.

That leaves the other nine players listed above.  The contracts to Brent Seabrook and Cam Barker are pretty fair market value.  It is funny to think the Hawks pay Seabrook half of what Campbell makes and you could argue he is two times the defenseman that Campbell is, but I digress.

The player I see most likely to be moved on this list is Kris Versteeg.  Remember, former GM Dale Tallon probably wouldn’t have given him that kind of money if not for the fax machine gaffe that essentially cost him his job.  Versteeg is only 23, so a number of teams would definitely be interested in his services and the Hawks would probably only want draft picks, not salary, in return.

I personally don’t see the Hawks wanting to trade Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland or Dustin Byfuglien.  You could argue some of these players are paid more than their output, especially Byfuglien, but he is a beast on skates and when he wants–see: last playoffs against Vancouver–he can be a consistent physical and effective force.

Troy Brouwer and his $1.0 million salary doesn’t need to go anywhere, although you wonder why Tomas Kopecky was brought in for $1.2 million when the team knew money would be tight against the cap next summer.  I could see the team moving Kopecky if the right offer came along.

So, at this point you must be wondering, even if the Hawks dealt  say Versteeg and Kopecky and sent down Sopel to the AHL and ate the salary, the team would only be saving $6.283 million.

Well, that would take the team down to a cap hit of $36.117 million ($42.4 million (the cap hit Sassone reports for next season) minus $6.283 million).  Factor in the reported deals for Kane and Toews ($6 million each) and the report that Keith may make $5 million per season–that is $17 million.  This would bring the Hawks’ cap hit to $53.17 million for twelve players (taking into account the theoretical trades plus the reported signings).  There is no exact word on where the cap will be set, but rest assured, the Hawks fans better get used to some serious fillers in the lineup.

That being said, with the talent the team has up front and on the back-end, the Hawks will be arguably the best team in the NHL for years to come.  However, Hawks fans should have two main concerns: 1. With all this money on the roster, do we have a netminder that can take us to the promised land?; 2. What do we do if injuries hit?

As the above situation indicates, Stan Bowman doesn’t exactly have an easy job ahead of him, but I bet any GM would tell you, it is better to start off with a lot of talent and a salary cap problem than no talent and a lot of money to spend.  Hey, just ask Brian Burke.

  • Bob Roberts

    First, thanks for this amazing in-depth piece on the Hawks and their cap situation.

    Second, a question: “Brian Campbell is on the books for four more seasons.” Do you know if he can be dropped to waivers or sent down or whatever they call it? If so, is it correct that a team who picked him up would pay half his salary? It’s not that he’s hurting the team with his play, it’s just that his play is nowhere near his pay; and if he can be disposed of by being sent to the minors or having another team pick him up off waivers at least some cap space can be created. Or have I got that whole scenario wrong?

    Third, a comment: “Byfuglien, but he is a beast on skates and when he wants…”. I think you’ve nailed it with “when he wants”. To me, other than a spurt here or there, that series against the Canucks was it. More to the point, and although he wasn’t alone on this one: where was he in the next series? I guess it always comes down to how long a team waits for consistency from players.

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com Richard

    1. Bob, I very much appreciate the kind words, thank you.

    2. Campbell could be sent down to the AHL and yes, if he were to be recalled, he would have to clear waivers and would be available for claim at half his salary per season.

    In that case, Campbell would be available to every team in the NHL for $3.57 million for the next four season. His defensive issues aside, I believe almost every team in the league would jump at that opportunity. So, I don’t think the Hawks would do that–especially because they’d be on the hook for $3.57 per season for a player to not play on their team for four years.

    The team also has the option of putting him in the AHL and not calling him up. In this case, his salary is off the books entirely. The Hawks’ cap would be rid of his $28.56 million of salary commitments beyond this season. The catch, however, is the team owner still has to pay the full amount–it just isn’t against the salary cap. I don’t see anyway the owner would do that.

    Additoinally, the ramifications of such a move would not reflect well on Chicago as an organization. What free agent would sign there if they see the possibility of exile due to, not even poor play, but rather not living up to the contract the team offered them?

    3. After Byfuglien’s performance against Vancouver, I thought he’d dominate against the Wings. As you stated, he was hardly noticeable. To be honest, he hasn’t been much better this season, so you are exactly right about the waiting game that the team has to play.

  • Bob Roberts

    Thanks Richard, I thought that was it on the Campbell front. I will say though, think that free agents, including Campbell, negotiate their contracts — I doubt the Hawks offered him the final deal up front — and although money and term and so on play a huge part in a decision to sign with a team, so does the chance to win the Cup. The Hawks look like a fair bet on that front. Are you saying a player like Hossa would think twice about signing with them because they decided to cut their losses on a player? I’d think he could just as easily see that as a sign that the team really wants to win, just as he obviously does.

    Regardless, a great read.

  • Nick

    Campbell has a no movement clause so they can’t send him to the AHL

  • Bob Roberts

    Well that solves that. Thanks Nick.

  • http://ndgoon.blogspot.com goon

    it will be interesting to see how they fit everyone under the cap.

  • Nick

    Yeah, they can waive him, but if he were to clear waivers (which he would with that contract) they would need his consent to go to the AHL, which he would probably deny. So really, this would never happen which is unfortunate for the Hawks.

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