It’s been beaten to death at this point. We all know the Canadian dollar is plummeting, and we all know it’s a nightmare for the NHL. It’s going to really hurt Canadian markets, but since a large chunk of the league’s hockey related revenue is based on Canadian teams, American teams are also going to be hit with some repercussions. In short, the most noticeable effect all teams will face is the salary cap. While many expected the cap to rise to around $75 million before the 2015-16 season, Gary Bettman suggested a couple weeks ago that if the Canadian dollar fell to $0.80, the cap ceiling would be around $71.5 million. The Canadian dollar is now at $0.79, so the cap could realistically fall even lower than the figure Bettman gave.
Bettman said last weekend NHL’s cap would be ~$71.7-million if the dollar stayed at 80 cents rest of the way. Already down to 78.5 today.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) January 31, 2015
With that being said, a lot of teams who were quietly counting on the cap to bump up a little bit are in a really, really rough position moving forward. The Chicago Blackhawks are at the top of that list. With Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane’s colossal extensions set to kick in next season, they’re going to have to do a lot of work to do this summer.
Players under contract in 2015-16
I included players who have played 20 or more games this season on this list.
Assuming the salary cap ceiling ends up at around $71 million, the Hawks, if they keep this current roster completely intact, will only have ~$6 million to flesh out the rest of their roster. They also have to find some money to give RFAs Brandon Saad, Marcus Kruger, David Rundblad, and others new contracts.
A large part of this is because they’re paying Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane a combined $21 million, which is 29.6% of their cap (if the cap ends up at $71 million). Even with the cap going up, that’s still a lot to be paying two guys. In a few years, if the cap rises astronomically like it did between 2005-06 and 2011-12, these cap hits won’t be such a burden. But for now, it’s going to be really difficult for the Hawks to maintain, let alone improve their roster.
We’ve seen this before in Chicago, though, and they came out of it just fine. After they won the Stanley Cup in 2010, they had to decide which guys from their cup run they would be able to keep around, and dump the rest. That offseason saw them unload Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Colin Fraser, Andrew Ladd, and Kris Versteeg for a collection of cheap veterans, prospects, and picks, and more importantly, freed up cap space. The core that they kept together — Toews, Kane, Sharp, Seabrook, Hossa, Keith — won the Stanley Cup again in 2013.
They’ll likely have to do the same this offseason and hope that some of their prospects can step in and fill the holes the departed players leave behind.
Who stays, who goes?
(5 on 5 stats from 2014-15 season)
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that all of Toews, Kane, Keith, and Crawford will be on the Chicago Blackhawks next season. I don’t really see a scenario in which any of those guys are moved, and I would consider them to be the main ‘core four’ of the team. With those four, the Hawks already have $32.551 million tied up. Yikes.
In: Toews, Kane, Keith, Crawford ($32.551)
First and foremost, the Hawks will have to make a decision on Hossa and Sharp. They’re pretty similar in terms of cap hit and production, but Sharp in three years younger and becomes a free agent three years sooner (Hossa is 36 and his contract expires in 2021, Sharp is 33 and his contract expires in 2017). Because of this, Sharp will certainly have more trade value, as Hossa’s deal will become an albatross as his game declines with age. Ideally, the Hawks would move Hossa, but in reality, they’ll have to move Sharp unless they plan on buying Hossa out. Keeping both would put their cap at around $44 million, meaning they would only have around $27 million to spend on the rest of their team. So yeah, one, or both of them have to go. I imagine Sharp is moved for assets, and Hossa is kept for at least another season until they do something about his contract.
In: Toews, Kane, Keith, Crawford, Hossa ($37.784)
After that, the Hawks will have to dump some salary in order to deal with their free agent forwards. Saad is their top priority, obviously, while Kruger provides value with a bargain-bin contract. Since Florida is paying half of Kris Versteeg’s salary, he provides really good value, so does Brad Richards at $2.0, if they can bring him back for another year at that price. That leaves Bryan Bickell and Ben Smith and their $4.0 million and $1.5 million price tags as the odd men out. You can do better than that for that price. We’ll get to the new contracts later.
In: Toews, Kane, Keith, Crawford, Hossa, Versteeg (39.984)
Need a contract: Saad, Kruger, Richards
Out: Sharp, Bickell, Smith
The next question is whether or not they can keep their top-4 defencemen in tact: Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Rundblad. If they let Oduya and Rozsival walk, they can keep all four around and afford to give Rundblad and Erixon new contracts. Although, with Seabrook’s deal expiring in 2016, they may look to take advantage of his value and get some prospects and picks rather than losing him as a UFA. Moving Seabrook would free up $5.8 million, giving them ~$26-30 million to flesh out their roster. It helps, but it’ll still be a massive struggle.
In: Toews, Kane, Keith, Crawford, Hossa, Versteeg, Hjalmarsson ($44.084)
Need a contract: Saad, Kruger, Richards, Rundblad, Erixon
Out: Sharp, Bickell, Smith, Oduya, Rozsival, Seabrook
The Hawks are going to really rely on players on entry level contracts to step it up next season. I think that Sharp and Seabrook will be on the way out this summer. Those are two massive holes to fill. Replacing Bickell, Smith, Oduya, and Rozsival shouldn’t be quite so difficult, but it’ll still require Teuvo Teravainen, Mark McNeill, Garret Ross, Phillip Danault and Ville Pokka to come in and make an impact next year. With $44.084 million tied up in seven players, the Hawks will have somewhere between $26 and $30 million to spend on at least 15 other players depending on what the cap ceiling actually is and what the cap cushion is. That gives them somewhere between $1.73 and $2.0 million to spend on each player. Not impossible, but really, really difficult.