Earlier today, the Chicago Blackhawks and defenceman Brent Seabrook agreed to an eight year contract extension with a cap hit of $6.875 million. Seabrook, who was supposed to become a UFA at the end of the 2015-16 season, will be 31 years old when the deal kicks in, meaning it’s reasonable to expect that he isn’t going to be worth the amount he’s being paid for the entire length of the contract. That being said, there’s a price to pay for being an elite team, and even though this deal will certainly look horrible six or seven years from now, being a winner right now makes it worthwhile.
As we know by now, the Hawks obviously don’t expect Brent Seabrook to be a $6.875 million player for the entire duration of his contract. They’re paying him for the player he has been, and will continue to be for the next three or four years, and they’re accepting by the end of it, he’s more than likely going to be a pretty huge boat anchor. Sure, this is great right now, because $6.875 million isn’t unreasonable for a player of Seabrook’s calibre, and signing him will play a major role in the Hawks being a contender for the next few years — even if it is tricky for them to piece together a complete roster like it was this year. That being said, signing Seabrook until he’s 39 years old has set the Hawks up for a really, really ugly cap situation down the road.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews together combine for $21 million until 2023, which is already a good chunk of their cap space to begin with. Marian Hossa has a cap hit of $5.275 million for another five years after this season, and by the time that’s over with, he’ll be 42 years old. Corey Crawford has a cap hit of $6 million until 2020, and Duncan Keith is signed until 2023 at a cap hit of $5.538 million. After this season, not only will Seabrook’s extension kick in, but Artem Anisimov will see his salary go up to $4.55 million annually until 2020. When it’s all said and done, the Hawks are going to be paying four forwards, two defencemen, and one goalie a combined $49.2 million until at least 2020.
Obviously I wouldn’t be complaining about having a core of Toews, Kane, Anisimov, Hossa, Keith, Seabrook, and Crawford locked up because the team is really good right now. There’s a reason the Hawks are as good as they are, and obviously if you’re going to win, you have to pay your players. You can’t keep everybody around forever, and the reality of the cap world is that you have to pick and choose which players stick around long term, and which ones don’t. You can live with having to let go of guys like Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Brandon Saad, and Patrick Sharp when the players you chose to keep instead of them are in their prime, producing at an elite level, and are contributing to a winning team. But when you’re having to let go of good young players year after year because you have a bunch of guys in the twilight years of their career, producing at a much lower level than they were when they were signed, it isn’t quite so palatable.
Heading into the next few seasons, the Hawks are going to have to carefully piece together a cast of complimentary depth players to fill the spaces around their core guys. That isn’t going to be easy, but like we saw this year, it won’t be impossible. They can dig around in the bargain bin and find guys like Jan Hejda, or Tomas Kopecky to fill spaces, and it’ll work out because they have a wealth of damn good core players. A few years from now, when Kane is 31, Toews is 32, Hossa is 41, Keith is 36, and Seabrook is 35, that won’t be so easy. The core of players won’t be as dominant as they are now, but they’ll still have the same massive price tag attached to them. As a result, it won’t be quite as easy to simply plug the holes with average depth players on pocket change contracts.
Who knows what’ll happen. I mean, for all we know, the salary cap ceiling could take massive spike in a few years and all of this I’m rambling on about will be moot. What we do know is the Hawks have a lot of money invested in a small group of players who aren’t getting any younger. We can’t exactly predict exactly how each player will age or what their game will look like two, five, or eight years from now, but it’s pretty clear that the Hawks are going to find themselves in the deepest depths of cap hell a in the not so distant future. There’s a price to pay for winning in a cap league, and in a few years, the Hawks will be hit with that bill. Is it going to be worth it? Well, they’ve already won three Stanley Cups in the past six seasons, and they probably have another left in them, so I would say it is.