With the recent signings of Cam Barker and Kris Versteeg to nearly identical 3 year contracts worth more than $9 million each, it appears that the Hawks have dodged the proverbial bullet with regards to the NHLPA grievance over the Hawks handling of the RFA tender notices. After all, if the players had any desire to test the market and consider offers from other teams they wouldn’t have agreed to deals with the Hawks. Clearly these players wanted to continue their careers as members of the Chicago Blackhawks.
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Even if the “worst case scenario” of an arbiter ruling that the Hawks were in violation of the CBA and making those 7 players affected UFA’s, what’s the point; they’ve all signed contracts anyway. I suppose the NHL could possibly be forced to invalidate the contracts but what would be the sense of that. The players have spoken (so-to-speak) by signing these agreements with the knowledge that it was at least a possibility they could be ruled UFA’s and could shop their services elsewhere. They declined the opportunity once and I’m sure they’d do it again. Problem solved for the Hawks, right? Well, not exactly.
Even though Barker and Versteeg have agreed to new contracts, they did so with the leverage that they could be declared UFA’s. This fact probably inflated the value of their contracts significantly. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that instead of signing identical 3 year deals at around $3.083 million per year each they agreed to 1 year contracts that paid each player around $1.5 million each. That’s certainly feasible given their performances combined with their general lack of leverage. $1.5 million would represent a significant increase over their 2008/2009 salary. In this case, the Hawks were forced to commit an additional $3.1 million of cap space for the upcoming season. How does this present a problem?
Well, the Hawks were already perilously close to the cap ceiling. Now, they are more than $4.5 million over this years cap with 15 forwards, 8 defensemen and 2 goalies under contract. Obviously they don’t need to carry 25 players on the NHL roster so the Hawks could safely send a couple of players down to the Minors to help get under the cap. As long as they stay relatively healthy and don’t need to call up any players to replace roster players with short-term injuries that would be alright.
If Barker and Versteeg had signed deals like I suggested above instead of the deals that they got, then the Hawks would only be about $1.4 million over the cap and demoting players like Jack Skille ($1.275 million), Colin Fraser ($700,000) and Jordan Hendry ($625,000) would free up $2.6 million and leave the Hawks about $1.2 million under the cap. A little bit of flexibility.
Instead, it may take trading one or more players to get under the cap comfortably. Granted, there were rumblings anyway that the Hawks would be looking to make some moves to free up cap space as three key players are headed to restricted free agency next year; Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane. Ideally, the Hawks would find a taker for Brian Campbell and the 7 years left on his deal with an annual cap hit in excess of $7 million. That won’t be easy. Don’t call Glen Sather either, he’s busy on the other line with Murray discussing Heatley again (god, I hope not but…)
It’s not as if the Hawks weren’t prepared for this possibility and it’s not like Tallon can’t work his way out of this mess; it’s just that the mess got bigger and more difficult to deal with, especially as it relates to next season. Clearly Tallon can move a mid-level salary like a Patrick Sharp or one of the newly signed players (Versteeg or Barker) in a trade to free up cap space. As a matter of fact, having Versteeg and Barker signed for the next 3 years might make them more enticing as GM’s will at least know how much of next year’s budget they will account for. If they were staring RFA status in the face again after this season the acquiring team would have to guess as to what it would take to sign them.
I just took quite a while saying that I’m glad the Hawks cleared this up and that hopefully they won’t have to face anything more severe than a slap on the wrist. The fact that Versteeg and Barker probably got a lot more money than they otherwise would have gotten seems to be punishment enough in fact. I do feel the need to wish Mr. Tallon luck for next off-season; he’s going to need t to sort through that mess.
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