Having to work around the NHL salary cap has become a yearly tradition for the Chicago Blackhawks, and on Wednesday those cap gymnastics cost them forwards Bryan Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen.
Bickell, who is entering the final year of a four-year, $16 million contract that he signed with the Blackhawks in 2013, wore out his welcome in Chicago, and the team simply couldn’t afford to continue hanging onto him with an extension for Artemi Panarin coming due after the 2016-17 season and extensions for Brent Seabrook and Artem Anisimov kicking in this summer.
Teravainen, who was entering the final year of a deal that would carry him to restricted free agency next offseason, is a 21-year old forward with a ton of upside and a track record of being able to play solidly on both ends of the ice, making him an incredibly valuable player for teams to seek out in a trade.
So why did the Blackhawks decide that it was time to package both players together?
For starters, they had to add a sweetener for a team to take on the Bickell contract. A $4 million cap hit for one year isn’t an awful contract, but when it comes with the complete lack of production that Bickell showed last year, and with the salary cap set to likely either stagnate or go up by a very small amount, teams weren’t going to be banging down Stan Bowman’s door with offers.
The Blackhawks did have the option of buying out Bickell’s contract, which would have freed up $3 million in space this season. The issue is that the move would have cost the team $1.5 million in cap space in the 2017-18 season, and that not only is when a Panarin extension would kick in, but also when a theoretical extension for Teravainen would have taken place.
So with limited options, the Blackhawks were forced to add in a really good player to move Bickell’s contract off the books, but what does it mean for the team moving forward?
For starters, the move gives them an additional $5 million in space for next season, which they will likely use in two ways. They’ll have to absorb some of the bonuses incurred by Panarin’s stellar rookie season, and they’ll also likely make a push to re-sign Andrew Shaw to a new contract.
The forward is set to become a restricted free agent on July 1, and Joel Quenneville certainly has an affinity for the way that he plays the game. Freeing up that money likely will give the Hawks room to re-sign him to a longer term deal, likely similar to the one that Bickell signed with the team in 2013.
The Blackhawks could also go a different route, trading Shaw’s rights for a first round pick (or more) since they don’t have one in 2016. The Hawks could then use the extra cap space to sign at least one veteran defenseman to help shore up their leaky blue line, and they could also potentially add in another veteran forward to help ease the pain of losing Shaw and Teravainen from their scoring lines.
Whatever route the Blackhawks end up taking, it’s going to be one full of questions. This is yet another deal where the Hawks have had to trade a young up-and-coming player for cap relief (think of Brandon Saad to Columbus, Stephen Johns joining Patrick Sharp in a trade to Dallas), and they don’t really have anyone in the system that can step into Teravainen’s role immediately.
Nick Schmaltz could be that player, but there’s no word on whether or not he will join the team or if he’ll stay in college for another season. Guys like Vincent Hinostroza and Mark McNeill could get a chance to join the roster, but there’s no telling if they’re up to the task of playing a top six role for the Hawks either.
As their lineup stands now, the Blackhawks are somewhat deficient in scoring (outside of their second line) and are certainly in need of help on defense. Moves like adding Michal Kempny will help out in that regard, but there are still more moves that will need to be made now that the team has decided to move forward without Teravainen and Bickell.