Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has made an art form out of making sure that his team stays under the NHL’s salary cap, but as the club prepares for free agency on Tuesday, they will be forced to subtract pieces instead of simply adding them.
That’s because the NHL set the upper end of the league’s salary cap at $69 million, which is about $2 million less than had been projected previously. While revenue growth was strong and new Canadian TV money will be coming into league coffers thanks to Sportsnet’s deal with the NHL, it wasn’t enough to push the cap north of $70 million, and that could be a problem for numerous teams, including the Blackhawks.
As of right now, with 22 players under contract thanks to two-year extensions for Ben Smith, Antti Raanta, and Jeremy Morin, the Blackhawks have $69,479,295 in salaries for the 2014-15 season. They may only be over the cap by less than $500,000, but that overage means that they are going to have to cut at least one player loose, and that trade could end up happening at the draft on Friday.
Two of the most prominent names on the list are Johnny Oduya, whose $3.375 million cap hit will come off the books after the upcoming season, and Michal Rozsival, who has one year left on a deal that pays him $2.2 million per season. Both players could be replaced either by David Rundblad, who was acquired in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes last season, or a prospect like Stephen Johns, Adam Clendening, or Klas Dahlbeck.
If the Hawks want to clear out a ton of space, there aren’t a lot of palatable options. Patrick Sharp’s name continues to swirl in trade rumors despite his agent insisting that his client isn’t on the trading block, and Brent Seabrook could be an attractive asset with two years left on a deal carrying a $5.8 million cap hit.
Outside of those four players, the options for cap relief are slim. It’s unlikely that a team will take on Kris Versteeg’s contract, even with the Florida Panthers picking up some of the contract, and Bryan Bickell’s remaining money and lackluster regular season production would probably make his $4 million cap hit undesirable.
Some of the questions about how Bowman will respond to this latest cap crunch will be answered as the NHL Entry Draft gets started at 6pm Central time in Philadelphia Friday night. The Blackhawks hold the 27th overall pick in the draft.