The Chicago Blackhawks.
The Chicago Blackhawks are a team two games away from winning the Stanley Cup. I don’t think it is a big surprise that they are in this position. They were supposed to do that. Many pundits picked them to hoist the cup this year after showing a promising and educational jaunt through the playoffs last year. And if they capture the Cup, then this summer will be easier to take.
They have some great young superstars that any team would love to have, but a significant reason they are winning right now is due to their depth; and come this summer that depth is likely going to be considerably depleted.
The Blackhawks currently have nine forwards, four defensemen, and one goalie signed. If you look at strictly the number of players and the specific personnel under contract, initial reactions would be impressed and star struck. Players like Hossa, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook have become household names, and are considered great players, if not stars in this league now. However, when you consider that these 14 players count for approximately $57.5 million against the cap, you can see where problems will start to rise.
This is in no way a shot at the Blackhawks. They have a superior team to most everyone else in the NHL, and should be commended for drafting well and doing such a great job with their cap management to this point. That being said, once this cup run is over, the management team (now lead by GM Stan Bowman) doesn’t have time to rest. Fans of the Blackhawks should likely expect a quiet trade deadline day, with some small moves prior to the season to wiggle under the cap; but it should be an interesting week leading up to the June 25-26 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles. This team has some moves to make, and they should be big.
Whether they turn to buy outs (which seems unlikely besides Huet), demotions or trades, Chicago has to do something to ice a full team and be under the new cap
come October. And although the cap hasn’t been publicly finalized as of yet, I don’t foresee it being much higher (or rather, high enough for the Hawks) than the current $56.8 million. Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp, and Brian Campbell have been often mentioned when it comes to Chicago's potential paths out of their cap woes, and that does seem to make sense considering the contract size and ranking on the depth chart of each player, but how much will that hurt, and how well will the replacement players fit into those departed roles?
By trading two of the larger contracts mentioned, for presumably some smaller salary (potentially minor leaguers) and/or picks, who will replace these departed second/third line players who have contributed so greatly? Can Dave Bolland be an offense threat for 82 games a year like Sharp has been and still be the shutdown center? Ryan Kesler seems to have figured it out. Can Ladd be resigned for a dollar amount less than what gets traded out of town? John madden likely won't be back unless he takes a significant pay cut (although if they win the cup this year, I think he has done his job and they would be okay with seeing him walk away).
On the back end, I think Chicago would love to move Campbell, but I don't think they will find a deal that they like enough to pull the trigger. Not only do they want to move Campbell because of his high, and often considered ridiculous salary, but the emergence of Niklas Hjalmarsson has caused a re-arrangement in the depth chart of the Hawks defence. Which is either unfortunate or fortuitous based on where you're standing, as Hjalmarsson is up for a new contract this year. How much he merits at the end of this season, after his performance through both the season and playoffs will be a big issue on how much and where this team sheds salary. And perhaps most importantly: how much is Antti Niemi going to cost, and how much is he worth to sacrifice another component of the team?
As I stated, I envy the organization that is the Blackhawks for the talent they possess. But they have some serious questions to answer and decisions to make.
(As SKR also has these post blog additions, I thought I would mention that although I have only proposed their potential difficulties, I do think that the Blackhawks have several options to dig themselves out of the hole, or up... The key to the Hawks dilemma is that unlike say the Flames, they have talent to trade at reasonable contract values; which should help them receive some quality in return and not have to offer picks or prospects just to shed the salary.)