This is a 30 part series analyzing the short and long term cap situations of each team in the NHL as we head into the 2015-16 season. The stats and information that I use in these articles is courtesy of Hockey Reference, War on Ice, and of course, NHLNumbers.
The Chicago Blackhawks, as everybody knows at this point, are deep in cap hell. This summer, they were forced to deal Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp and they allowed Brad Richards, Johnny Oduya, and Antoine Vermette to walk as free agents because of their cap crunch. They’re currently pressed right up against the cap with less than a million dollars to spend on a contract for Marcus Kruger and a seventh defenceman. Looking further down the road, the Hawks are also going to be in tough to find a way to fit Brent Seabrook into their long term plans as he’s set to become a free agent on July 1, 2016. That being said, the Hawks are still a fair bet to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions this season even though the future of many players in the organization is up in the air.
- Traded Antti Raanta to the Rangers for Ryan Haggerty.
- Signed David Rundblad to a two year contract with a $1.05 million cap hit.
- Traded Brandon Saad, Michael Paliotta, and Alex Broadhurst to the Blue Jackets for Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp, and a 2016 fourth round pick.
- Signed Artem Anisimov to a five year contract extension with a $4.550 million cap hit that will start in 2016-17.
- Signed Viktor Tikhonov to a one year, $1.04 million contract.
- Signed Andrew Desjardins to two year contract with an $0.800 million cap hit.
- Traded Anders Nilsson to the Oilers for Liam Coughlin.
- Signed Trevor van Riemsdyk to a two year contract with an $0.825 million cap hit.
- Traded Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns to the Stars for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt.
- IN: Artem Anisimov, Viktor Tikhonov, Marko Dano, Ryan Garbutt, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp, Trevor Daley.
- OUT: Brad Richards, Brandon Saad, Antoine Vermette, Dan Carcillo, Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Kimmo Timonen, Antti Raanta, Anders Nilsson.
Patrick Kane has put the Chicago Blackhawks in a terrible situation. Earlier this summer, Kane became the focal point of a rape investigation that will likely drag on into the season. This is a really difficult topic to write on, so I’m going to make it clear that I’m not in any way commenting on whether I believe Kane is innocent or guilty. The only thing I will comment on is his future with the Hawks organization and how that’s going to affect the Hawks and their short and long term cap outlook. If you’re looking for commentary on Kane’s personal life, or insight into the investigation, this is the wrong place to be. Here’s a great piece to read for anybody who isn’t familiar with the situation, or how this has affected the lives of many.
The Hawks have received notice from multiple teams around the league that suggest they would be interested in Kane’s services if they decided to cut ties with him. Kane’s reputation around the league was already poor before this situation, and it seems now it’s reached an all time low. Kane was removed from the cover of EA Sports’ NHL 16 cover, which featured him and Toews hoisting the Stanley Cup together. The London Knights also put an end to “Team Patrick Kane” at its training camp, as the organization was planning to have its 80 invitees split into four teams named after four of its star graduates. That being said, somebody is going to trade for him if the Hawks decide to move in that direction. Somebody will look past this, see his tantalizing talent and successful career and say “it’s about putting the best players on the ice so we can win and sell tickets.” That’s really unfortunate, but as we know, that’s how professional sports operates.
Like I said, the Hawks are now in a much more horrific situation than they could have possibly imagined heading into the summer. Fresh off their third Stanley Cup victory in six years, it was well known that the Hawks were going to need to move a lot of players around in order to deal with the impending contract extensions to Kane and Jonathan Toews that are set to kick in at the beginning of the season. Kane and Toews are both set to see their cap hits increase to $10.5 million, meaning the two of them together would take up roughly 31 per cent of Chicago’s cap space this season. As a result, the Hawks dealt RFA Brandon Saad to the Blue Jackets for Artem Anisimov — who was quickly signed to an extension — and a nice haul of prospects, and they sent Patrick Sharp to the Stars for Ryan Garbutt and Trevor Daley. The Hawks were also forced to let Antoine Vermette, Johnny Oduya, and Brad Richards walk in free agency. That being said, despite all of that turn over, the Hawks still looked like a really good team who could most certainly compete to win another Stanley Cup. I mean, this wasn’t the first time they’ve had to sell off a handful of key assets after a Cup win. Now this issue is so much bigger than just that. The issue isn’t just about another Cup, a dynasty, or their cap situation, it’s about the ethics and principles that vastly supersede the importance of the game.
There’s a couple ways this situation could play out. The Hawks could give Kane yet another chance and hang on to him until the legal situation plays out and then wait for the law and the league to make a decision on his future both as a citizen and as an employee of the National Hockey League. They could also try to trade him to one of the many teams who don’t seem to be worried about the magnitude of this accusation, and in the process, they could get a hefty return of good players, prospects and draft picks all while remedying their tight cap situation. Another the thing the Hawks can do, although it’s very unlikely, is terminate his contract like the Kings did with Mike Richards. At this point, I’ll be clear in stating the Hawks have issues no word on which path they’ll take with Kane, but to me it seems pretty obvious which is the right move. Like the article I linked from Second City Hockey suggests, everybody is going to have a different opinion on Kane, but it’s impossible to imagine a situation in which he’s going to be able to regain the trust of the fans of the Chicago Blackhawks and the sport in general.
Moving on now, the Hawks are a really different looking team — with or without Kane — than they were last season. As I mentioned earlier, the Hawks were forced to let Richards and Vermette walk and they traded away Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad, while they added Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Viktor Tikhonov, Artemi Panarin, and Ryan Garbutt among others. At the end of the year, the Hawks will need to deal with Kris Versteeg and Tikhonov becoming free agents, while Andrew Shaw and Joakim Nordstrom will need new RFA deals. Of course, it’s damn near impossible to predict where the Hawks are going to be next summer because of Patrick Kane. What they decide to do with him will greatly effect the outlook of their roster moving forward. If they keep him, they have to deal with having two players take up a combined $21 million of cap space together, which will create issues as long as the cap ceiling hovers around the figure its at right now. If they trade him, they’ll have a lot more cap space to work with, but they’ll also need to look for somebody to fill the hole he leaves in their lineup.
The last time I wrote about the Hawks and their cap situation I suggested that they look into trading Brent Seabrook largely because he’s set to become a free agent at the end of the season and judging by the team’s cap situation, there’s almost no way they’ll be able to afford him. I mean, the Hawks are currently pressed so far up against the cap that they don’t actually have space to carry a seventh defencemen. They have under a million dollars in cap room available with 12 forwards, six defencemen and two goalies. My thinking was that the Hawks would be best to trade Seabrook in a retool move that would allow them to get value for him before he inevitably leaves the team as a free agent as a result of their cap crunch. At this point, it appears that isn’t going to happen. We’re just under a month away from the beginning of the season and it appears that Seabrook will be suiting up for the Hawks.
Aside from Seabrook and the mystery seventh defenceman, the Hawks are pretty set on defence moving forward. They have Duncan Keith locked up at a really team friendly $5.538 million cap hit for another eight seasons and the reliable Nicklas Hjalmarsson signed at $4.1 million for four more years. Even if Seabrook moves on, Keith and Hjalmarsson give the Hawks the base for two solid defensive pairings. The Hawks also added Trevor Daley — who’s under contract at $3.3 million for two more years — earlier summer in a trade with the Stars. While he put up the best offensive numbers of his career last season, his underlying stats were terrible, as he boasted a 46.6 Corsi For percentage at even strength which was far and away the worst of any regular on the team. He also did that while starting 53.4 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone, which is somewhat alarming.
I really can’t see Daley filling the shoes of Johnny Oduya — who ironically signed with the Stars this summer — as one of the team’s shut down defenceman. Last year, Oduya had a -4.4 relative Corsi For percentage, which is pretty solid considering the unfavourable zone starts he was given and the difficult competition he faced. Judging by Daley’s career performance, I would assume he would get eaten alive if he played in the situations Oduya did, so it’s likely the Hawks will end up moving Seabrook off Keith’s wing on the top paid and play him with Hjalmarsson as the team’s new shutdown pair.
Last season, Corey Crawford, Scott Darling, and Antti Raanta combined to allow the fewest goals in the NHL. As a group, the three of them allowed just 189 goals, managing a combined 0.928 save percentage. Sure, a lot of that had to do with the fact they had the best team playing in front of them on a nightly basis, but some credit has to be given to the goaltenders for getting the job done. For better or worse, the Hawks have their goaltending situation figured out for a long time, as Corey Crawford is signed for five more years at a $6 million cap hit. They also have Scott Darling — one of last season’s ‘come out of nowhere’ goalies — signed for another two years at a $0.588 million cap hit. While fans may wonder if it’s actually him being an elite goaltender that results in his success, or if he’s just a product of a goalie on a good team, I doubt the Hawks care. Barring a really terrible season from Crawford, I’m sure the Hawks are content paying him $6 million a season to “get the job done,” as he’s managed to do his entire career.
It’s really hard to say what’s going to happen with the Hawks because so much is tied into what they do with Patrick Kane. As of right now, they have roughly $63 million invested in nine forwards, five defencemen, and two goalies beyond this season (in terms of players on their current roster). That doesn’t really give them much room to work with, especially if the cap ceiling is only bumped up by a small amount like it was this year. If the Hawks decide to cut ties with Kane, the amount of space available looks a lot more palatable. But like I said before, while we can all have opinions on what the Hawks should do in regards to that whole situation, none of us have a clue what’s actually going to happen.
The only thing we are certain of is the Hawks, as it stands right now, are pressed so tight against the cap they can’t actually ice a full roster. They still need to sign Marcus Kruger to a new RFA contract and they need to find room for a seventh defenceman. Even if it doesn’t involve Kane, we’re definitely going to see the Hawks make a few more moves before the season starts. Looking beyond this season, the biggest issue will be figuring out some way to sign Brent Seabrook to a new contract. In order to do so, the Hawks are going to need to shed some salary elsewhere, because even with a few contracts coming off the shelf, there’s no way they can reasonably fit Seabrook in with the current group they have now and still manage to flesh out the rest of an NHL roster.
At the end of the day, everything that happens hinges on what the Hawks decide to do with Patrick Kane.