02 July 2009

The Chicago Blackhawks left their abbacus at home

The biggest story of the July 1st UFA circus was Marian Hossa quickly coming to a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. Terms of the deal were 12 years for 62.4M over the life of the contract. That adds up to a 5.2M/year hit against the cap. This leads to one of three possible conclusions: 1) the Chicago Blackhawks can't do simple math, 2) the Chicago Blackhawks don't have access to websites like www.nhlnumbers.com 3) the Chicago Blackhawks have a very interesting idea of how to build a winning team.

This year, 2009-10, the Blackhawks still have some of their best players operating under their entry level contracts, which means they'll be getting a hell of a lot of bang for their buck. Counting Hossa and the newly signed Tomas Kopecky (2 years, 1.2M/yr) and John Madden (1 year, 2.75M/yr), the Chicago Blackhawks one year cap outlook is like such:

48.775M spent on 15 players (11 forwards, 6 defensemen, 2 goaltenders)
UFA players from last year: Tim Brent, Pascal Pelletier, Aaron Johnson
RFA players from last year: Troy Brouwer, Ben Eager, Colin Fraser, Kris Versteeg, Cam Barker, Corey Crawford

I boldfaced the more significant players who have yet to be resigned to the club. Total, to fill the club up to a bare minimum that you need for a game (12 forwards, 6 defensemen, 2 goalies), the Blackhawks really only need to get one more forward under contract. Currently, they have 10.025M with which to play with for the duration of the 2009-10 season. That's certainly doable, and with 10M left, they could easily resign Versteeg and Barker, who are key pieces to the puzzle. Versteeg was a Calder Trophy nominee this year, posting 22-31-53 in 78 games. Cam Barker is a very capable defenseman for Chicago, a former first round pick, and he's just 23 years old.

Its clear that this year, Chicago could ice a very good team for a very good price. One of the most important things in the NHL since the lockout has been getting good bang for the buck. Taking advantage of rookies still being on entry level deals to allow a team to get a expensive free agent, being able to sign players at a discount to play for a contender, no matter how you do it, its important that you do it somehow, if you are to contend in the NHL. Chicago will be in a very good position to do that this year. The problem is going to be the cap dollars committed in the years going forward. In all honestly, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest to see the next big up and coming team hamstring themselves into becoming Tampa Bay Mid-West. Let's examine the Blackhawks salary structure for 2010-11, where it starts getting really interesting.

35.307M spent on 9 players (5 forwards, 3 defensemen, 1 goalie)
Players needing new contracts, not including those who still needed them from the previous year:
UFA's: John Madden, Adam Burish
RFA's: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Andrew Ladd, Jack Skille, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Hendry, Joseph Fallon, Antti Niemi

To fill the club up to the minimum you'll need for a game for this year, the Blackhawks would need 7 more forwards, 3 more defensemen, and 1 more goalie. That's 11 more players. To sign all those players, assuming the cap stays the same (and that may be being generous), the team has only about 21.5M to spend to fill those 11 spots. That's pushing it a bit right there, meaning you'll need some real bargains.

But wait, remember all those players I boldfaced? Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker need new deals this offseason, and franchise stars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith all need them the next year. Either of Kane or Toews will easily command 5M/yr, and that would probably be below market value. Even signing one of those two for 5M/yr would push the cap situation to 16.5M to sign 10 players. If you sign both of Kane and Toews to the same deal, its 11.5M to sign 9 players. And that's being generous in that the cap doesn't go down at all, and that those two would take discounted contracts on their first chance to earn big money. If they each want 6M, you're down to 9.5M to sign 9 players. That means almost every replacement would have to be making near league minimums.

This is to say nothing of what it would to in terms of harm to the team itself and the fanbase to let the other players (Keith, Barker, and Versteeg) go, in order to make the numbers work with the cap. Obviously, at least a couple of these top 5 have to be on the way out, and its very hard to see either of Toews or Kane hitting the road. Frankly, there's no reason either one should have to be forced out to be replaced with Marian Hossa. If neither of them are going, it comes back to the Versteeg/Keith/Barker choice again, and of those three, probably one can be kept while filling out the rest of the roster, maybe 2. Of those three, and given the lack of quality defense (Campbell is a forward playing defense, remember, leaving Seabrook as the only good defenseman not listed here), Keith should be the third to stay, and Versteeg and Barker should be given walking papers.

That said, we run into the timing issue again. Versteeg and Barker are both able to be resigned this year, and this year is when they have cap space to spend on those players. Will Chicago be able to plan ahead enough to let these two walk, for the future good of the franchise? Or will they sign them and get into a real nasty situation next year when you have to face the idea of losing one of the boy wonders to be replaced with someone older who doesn't really bring anything more to the table? It's a nasty nasty situation the Blackhawks have gotten themselves into, and frankly, I don't think they'll be good enough to manuever out of it effectively, unless they start sinking money into a time machine.

1 comment:

  1. Anyone who rags on the Penguins for just being lucky enough to land great draft picks should look away from the Blackhawks right now. Pittsburgh makes smart decisions while keeping a core of YOUNG talent together while Chicago seems to fall in love with the free agent du jour and let the future be damned.

    I know Staal and Fleury might be mistakes, but the difference between Shero and Tallon seems like night and day.