Cap crunching: Blackhawks need to make some moves to deal with salary cap
Like a wrecking ball demolishing a house of cards, the coronavirus has wreaked havoc all over the world.
Those who make their living playing, coaching, covering and being around sports have been hit particularly hard. Now we sit here in mid-July, cautiously optimistic that the NHL, NBA and MLB can rev up their engines and bring entertainment back into our living rooms.
The long-term future, however, remains extremely cloudy.
In the NHL's case, the league hopes to complete an 82-game regular season in 2020-21, with opening night beginning as early as December 1.
Before we get there, there will be a draft (scheduled for October 9-10) as well as a free agency period. The biggest headache for general managers will be dealing with a salary cap that is expected to remain flat at $81.5 million for at least the next two seasons.
It's especially a problem for the Blackhawks, whose roster is dotted with too many players not living up to their bloated cap numbers.
What that means is the next generation must step up -- and in a hurry.
"(The flat cap is) going to put the importance of finding and developing young players," GM Stan Bowman said Monday. "The good news for us is we've got a number of them already who are breaking into our lineup this year.
"We gave a lot of (them) an opportunity; we've got some more on the way. And we're going to continue to rely on those guys going forward."
• • •
Bowman is correct -- the Hawks' biggest reason for optimism is the fact that an up-and-coming core made some significant strides. Not only that, but several new faces should provide a lift in 2020-21.
• Kirby Dach scored a modest 8 goals and had 15 assists in his rookie season. Not great. Not bad, either, considering he was borderline ready to begin his NHL career. Going forward, it's clear Dach should be a difference maker next season and a potential star in 2-3 years. During this restart at Fifth Third Arena, the 19-year-old looks more confident, stronger and more capable of backing off defenders on a consistent basis.
"He's been very noticeable with his skating and confidence on the puck, even more so than last year," said coach Jeremy Colliton.
• After a quiet start, Calder Trophy finalist Dominik Kubalik unleashed his talent on the league and finished with 30 goals in 68 games. The Hawks deserve huge credit for trading just a fifth-round pick to Los Angeles for Kubalik, but now the challenge will be re-signing the 24-year-old restricted free agent.
• Adam Boqvist (4G, 9A in 41 GP) had an up-and-down campaign, but the offensively gifted D-man flashed plenty of talent. He'll see an expanded role next season, likely next to Duncan Keith. He's a bit undersized at 5-foot-11, 179 pounds, so it's imperative that he uses the offseason to bulk up.
• Newcomers Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin and Pius Suter all have the potential to make significant contributions.
Mitchell, a second-round pick in 2017, is a talented defenseman who spent three seasons honing his game at the University of Denver.
Beaudin, a left-shot D-man taken 27th overall in 2018, impressed in Rockford this season and is another cheap option ($894,000 cap hit) if trades or injuries occur.
Finally, don't sleep on Suter, who just signed a one-year deal last week. The 24-year-old, who scored 30 goals and was MVP of the Swiss-A League, could be the next in a long line of impressive overseas signings by Bowman.
• We can't forget about Alex Nylander (10G, 16A in 65 GP) in this group. The young forward has all the offensive talent in the world, and it would help the Hawks immensely if he can become a reliable scoring threat.
• • •
Feeling a bit better? Well, here comes the bad news.
As it stands now, half of the Hawks' salary cap space will be tied up in just five players -- Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews ($10.5M), Brent Seabrook ($6.875M), Alex DeBrincat ($6.4M) and Brandon Saad ($6.0M).
Throw in Andrew Shaw ($3.9M), Zack Smith ($3.25M), D-men Duncan Keith ($5.538M), Calvin de Haan ($4.55M), Olli Maatta ($4.083M), Connor Murphy ($3.85M) and seven more players between $725,000 and $1 million and now you're at almost $73 million.
So how does Bowman afford Dylan Strome (an RFA), Kubalik, a goalie and possibly Drake Caggiula?
It won't be easy, but there are a few paths he could take.
• One would be to trade Saad. The Hawks don't figure to be Cup contenders next season, so clear that $6 million off the books.
• Trade or buy out Maatta. A trade would be preferable, but the buyout route would only cost the Hawks about $680,000 against the cap for the next four seasons.
• Attempt to trade Shaw or de Haan, but what GM wants to take on that much injury risk?
A big issue is what do you do with Seabrook? Honestly, he deserves a chance, so give it to him and see if he can prove himself during the next training camp. At some point, though, he'll either have to waive his no-trade clause or the contract -- which runs until 2023-24 -- will probably need to be bought out.
I've written before that Kubalik deserves a three-year deal in the $12 million to $13 million range. Strome is probably looking for something similar, if not a bit more.
And then there's the goalie situation.
Unless Bowman really loves 30-year-old Jacob Markstrom, a 6-foot-6 unrestricted free agent, then why not go the cheap route next season with Colin Delia and Malcolm Subban? Or, if you've cleared up enough cap space, see if Corey Crawford would accept a one-year, $5 million deal.
Personally, I'd trade Saad and ink Strome and Kubalik to a pair of three-year deals. Bring in a cheap, veteran goalie to compete with Delia and Subban, then find a long-term solution.
By then the young players have another year under their belts, another high draft pick should be ready to make an impact, and Kane, Toews and Keith should still be playing at a high level.
Is it perfect? No. One more year of pain is probably necessary.
But after that, this plan should give three future Hall of Famers a chance to make another Cup run or two for a franchise they love so dearly.
Crunching the numbersA look at the Blackhawks' salary cap situation. The cap is expected to remain at $81.5 million in 2020-21.
ForwardsPlayer Cap hit
Jonathan Toews $10.5M
Patrick Kane $10.5
Alex DeBrincat $6.4
Brandon Saad $6.0
Andrew Shaw $3.9
Zack Smith $3.25
Ryan Carpenter $1.0
Kirby Dach $0.925
Pius Suter $0.925
Alex Nylander $0.863
Matthe1w Highmore $0.725
DefensemenBrent Seabrook $6.875
Duncan Keith $5.538
Calvin de Haan $4.55
Olli Maatta $4.083
Connor Murphy $3.85
Ian Mitchell $0.925
Adam Boqvist $0.894
GoalieColin Delia $1.0
Note: Forwards Dylan Strome, Dominik Kubalik, Drake Caggiula, defenseman Slater Koekkoek and goalie Malcolm Subban are restricted free agents. Corey Crawford is an unrestricted free agent.