The Chicago Blackhawks have long been Stanley Cup contenders, with last season being no exception. However, reckless management of the cap has finally caught up with the team, so much so that the team is staring at a roster more shallow than it has been in years, with little wiggle room to maneuver themselves under the cap. Such forces leave the Hawks not only in danger of losing their status as Cup contenders, but of missing the playoffs altogether.
Here’s how the HERO charts see the players on the Blackhawks:
As we can see, and as you’re probably already aware of, the Hawks have great front-end talent. Kane, Toews, Panarin, and Keith are all stars. Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook aren’t too shabby either. And Corey Crawford is a strong starting netminder.
Where the Hawks run into quick and immediate problems is the depth department. The team really only has four top-six forwards and two top-four defensemen. This wasn’t a huge concern last season because the team also had the likes of Andrew Ladd, Teuvo Teravainen, Marko Dano, Phillip Danault, Tomas Fleischmann, and Dale Weise for parts of the year.
But heading into thee offseason, cap problems like the team hasn’t faced since 2010 threaten to put them in serious danger of taking a major step backwards next season.
Here’s what the Blackhawks have on the books right now:
The good news is the team is, for the most part, paying the guys that deserve to be getting paid, and not paying the guys that don’t deserve to be getting paid.
Questionable contracts exist for players like Artem Anisimov, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Marcus Kruger though, and that money adds up. And after those three, the team is allocating a fair chunk of money to players that won’t even be on the team next season (cap overage, Scuderi, and Rundblad). Couple this all with the hefty contracts being paid to the team’s star players and you have a cap situation with virtually no flexibility.
Here’s a rough estimate of what the Hawks roster looks like at the moment:
In a perfect world the Hawks would be able to free up some cap space and add more front-end talent either up front or on the back-end. They could do that pretty cost-effectively too, wavering through free agency until they’re able to scoop up undervalued players on the cheap.
But the team will be hard-pressed to free up more cap space. They need to sign Andrew Shaw, who is slated to get an undeservedly hefty contract (relatively speaking) from the team. And they already freed up a good chunk of money by packaging Bryan Bickell with Teuvo Teravainen in a deal with Carolina just last week.
The team could look to move guys like Anisimov, Kruger, and Hjalmarsson, but somehow that seems unlikely. The team handed out those contracts to Anisimov and Kruger within the past year, and the organization loves Hjalmarsson. If they were smart they would look to unload some of these contracts and create more talent within their lineup by taking a cost-effective approach to free agency. But given what we know about the Blackhawks brain-trust, somehow that seems unlikely.
So basically what you’re looking at then is what I have above. A team that may or may not be able to get tightly under the cap, with depth positions handed out to players as cheap as they come. Young players like Hartman, McNeill, Pokka, and Svedberg would be counted on to contribute to the team in depth roles.
For the Hawks sake, they better hope that, if they’re not able to create more cap space, those young players are able to step up. Otherwise the Blackhawks could, in light of their extremely concerning depth problems, be in danger of missing the playoffs next year.
The Hawks, as has been the case for a number of years, are loaded with star talent. But poor cap management has left the team with severe depth problems, so much so that the team is a real uncertainty heading into the offseason, and by extension, when looking beyond to next year. It’ll be interesting to see how GM Stan Bowman navigates the draft, trade, and free agent markets in an attempt to get the best bang for his buck in order to help keep the team afloat. But the team’s cap situation and depth problems are so glaring that, at the moment, it seems that the Hawks will be hard-pressed to alleviate the lack of flexibility they’re currently presented with. Such a lack of flexibility means that, if the team ends up heading into next season with the roster they’ve got, the team is basically one gigantic question mark.