The Chicago Blackhawks head into the offseason not needing to make many big moves to augment a roster that came within one goal of getting back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second consecutive season, but there are larger moves potentially looming in the horizon.
That’s because the Hawks are going to have to try to figure out ways to make a bit of salary cap room to fit in several key contract extensions that are coming up. Both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are going to be due new contracts after next season ends, and youngsters like Marcus Kruger, Brandon Saad and Nick Leddy are also going to be up for new deals after the 2014-15 campaign comes to a close.
While the latter three players are all restricted free agents and thus easier to keep costs down on, the Kane and Toews deals could prove to be a bit of a challenge for even a salary cap wizard like Stan Bowman. If the team ends up having to pay the duo a combined $19-20 million a season, that eats up a substantial portion of the salary cap space even with the cap on the rise north of $70 million, and it could require Bowman to make some tough choices.
Two of those potential choices could involve trading guys who have been mainstays with the Hawks for nearly a decade, as both Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp could find themselves on the chopping block if the need for salary shedding arises.
Out of the two options, the Hawks would be better suited to handling Seabrook’s departure. The 29-year old defenseman has a contract that runs through the end of the 2015-16 season, and the $5.8 million cap hit isn’t egregious for a guy with as much experience playing on the top pairing as he has. Teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks (the defenseman’s hometown team) could use a guy like Seabrook, and with a limited no-trade clause that Seabrook would likely have to wave to make a deal happen, trading him to a winner could be something he’d agree to.
As for Sharp, he will be a slightly more difficult piece to move. He is owed $5.9 million a season through the end of the 2016-17 campaign, and he will be 35 years old by the time that deal ends. He did have one of the best seasons of his career this year as the Hawks’ leading scorer, but with a No-Movement Clause on his contract, Sharp would have to agree to any deal that would send him elsewhere, meaning that he too would likely choose to head to a contender if the Hawks decided to part ways with him.
With these thoughts in mind, the question becomes this: Should the Blackhawks consider trading one of the two players for salary cap relief? The answer, at least for this season, is probably not, but the door shouldn’t be slammed shut completely. If the Hawks can manage to get a number two center in the deal, then trading a guy like Seabrook could be worth the risk. Guys like Ryan Kesler and Joe Thornton could be tremendous fits in Chicago, and dealing one of those two players and a couple of minor assets might be a smart move that Bowman could pull off.
Unless the team is getting somebody that’s a game-changer in that way, however, trading Seabrook and Sharp during this offseason wouldn’t be worth it. Getting prospects and picks for either player would be a significant step back for the Blackhawks, and with the team being so close to winning the Cup again this season, it wouldn’t make any sense to lose an asset with that much value to making another Cup run again next year.
That being said, Bowman has to be careful not to let his assets lose value if he does indeed decide to explore trading one or both of those players. Neither of them are getting any younger (Seabrook will turn 30 years old next year), and if other teams know that the Hawks have to cut Seabrook or Sharp loose to create salary cap space, then they may be less willing to trade huge assets for either player.
It’s been quite a while since Bowman had to trade away any of the Hawks’ integral pieces (Brian Campbell was the last guy to be slashed because of cap reasons after the 2010-11 season), but with a potential crunch on the horizon, the GM might have to make that decision sooner than he’d like to. It’s the reality of the current NHL that teams have to make tough choices because of the salary cap, and dealing Sharp or Seabrook would definitely qualify as such.