The Chicago Blackhawks went into the NHL Entry Draft with everyone assuming that the team would move big ticket players like Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell in order to create some salary cap space for next season, but GM Stan Bowman didn’t move either player as the team only made one minor trade while they were in south Florida.
The lack of moves means that the Blackhawks are still sitting with just $8.1 million in cap space, at least seven players to sign, and guys like Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger still looking at potentially becoming restricted free agents on Wednesday.
Needless to say, the lack of moves has some Blackhawks fans angry. Why would Bowman leave the draft without moving anybody, especially with free agency looming later this week and a couple of players that teams will likely target with offer sheets?
To answer that question, we’re going to put on our General Manager cap and see what exactly the Blackhawks can do to extricate themselves from this situation.
For starters, the Blackhawks do have enough cap room to get Kruger and Saad under contract before free agency even starts. If one was to assume that Kruger would get $2.5 million and Saad to take a bridge deal worth $4 million, that would leave the Blackhawks with $1.6 million in cap space, with which they would have to sign at least two more forwards and three defensemen.
Of course, anyone with a working calculator can see that there isn’t enough money there to sign five different players, even if they were to all sign NHL-minimum deals to play with the Hawks. That’s where the Collective Bargaining Agreement comes into play.
According to the CBA, a team does not have to be salary cap compliant until the day that the NHL season starts. Until that date, a team can exceed the cap by a maximum of 10 percent, which would mean that the Blackhawks can go over the cap by $7.14 million until the season actually begins.
With that added flexibility, the Blackhawks can make a few moves in order to tie up loose ends and set their roster for the coming year. It is safe to assume that one of the three defensemen that Bowman will have on the NHL roster is Trevor van Riemsdyk, so his $925,000 cap hit brings the total salary cap available down to $675,000.
One of the forwards that the Blackhawks will have on their roster opening night is Artemi Panarin, whose cap hit of $812,500 would leave the Hawks in the red by just over $100,000. Throwing in a couple more contracts just to fill out roster spots (we’ll choose Mark McNeill and his $863,000 cap hit, and add in Ville Pokka ($925,000) and Stephen Johns ($800,000) to round out the roster), and the Blackhawks would exceed the salary cap by $2.73 million with 20 players under contract.
Of course, it’s highly unlikely that the Blackhawks are going to want to ice a roster with that kind of inexperience on the blue line, so for kicks and giggles, we’ll say that they acquire at least one veteran defenseman at a cap hit of around $2 million. That would mean that they would likely keep Pokka in the minors for the time being, and would also mean that their cap overage would go up to around $3.9 million.
The Blackhawks will not want to ice a bare minimum lineup, so odds are they would add some more depth here and there (and there’s always a possibility that a guy like Brad Richards would come back for a pretty cheap contract), but no matter what the outcome is, this exercise was designed to show one thing: the Blackhawks are not doomed just because Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell are still on the roster.
The salary cap system works to allow the team more time to find suitable trade partners for both players, and after this already weak free agent pool dries up in the middle of July, teams are going to still be willing to part with assets in order to acquire proven veterans like Sharp and Bickell.
With that being the case, and with teams looking to even just get to the salary cap floor, there are still plenty of options available for Bowman, and just because he “struck out” at the draft does not mean that it is time to panic by any stretch.