Chicago Blackhawks: Unwrapping the Salary Cap Nightmare Coming in 2011-12 (Hint: It's Going to be OK)

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In the wake of Dustin Byfuglien signing a five-year, $26M contract extension with the Atlanta Thrashers, many Blackhawks fans started putting their Brent Seabrook sweaters on EBay. After all, if Byfuglien is worth over $5M per, what is Seabrook worth? And how can the Blackhawks afford him?

Well, further inspection of the Hawks cap situation for next year paints a less pessimistic picture than the current roster would lead fans to assume is reality moving forward.

First, let's set a benchmark for this discussion. The current salary cap in the NHL is $59.4M, and expecations are that the cap could go up by as much as $4M next year. To be safe, we'll use a cap of $62M for next season, a fairly conservative increase of $2.6M.

Second, let's make one major assumption: Cristobal Huet is still playing in Europe or Rockford. Much like herpes, the Hawks can't get rid of Huet fast enough but he's still there. However, thanks to holes in the CBA the Hawks will continue to leave him somewhere that his cap number is off the NHL books.

With those two assumptions in place, let's look at next year's roster.

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Here are the existing obligations for the 2011-12 season:

Jonathan Toews  $  6.300
Patrick Kane  $   6.300
Marian Hossa  $   5.275
Patrick Sharp  $   3.900
Dave Bolland  $   3.375
Bryan Bickell  $   0.542
John Scott  $   0.513
Brian Campbell  $   7.143
Duncan Keith  $   5.539
Niklas Hjalmarsson  $   3.500
Nick Leddy  $   1.117
TOTAL  $ 43.504

Those 11 players that are under contract leave roughly $18.5M under the cap for at least five forwards, two defensemen and two goalies. Sounds awful, doesn't it? That's an average of only $2M per players, therefore killing any chance of Seabrook staying in Chicago.

Or does it?

In my opinion, there are two prospects that will probably be in Chicago full time next season: Jeremy Morin and Marcus Krüger.

If you read The Daily Herald's great piece by Tim Sassone about the top prospects in the organization on Tuesday, GM Stan Bowman gave a glowing endorsement of Krüger, going as far as saying the Hawks tried to convince him to stay here with an outside chance of making the roster this season.

"We expect [Krüger] to come over next year and be on our team," Bowman told Sassone. "He's a very smart player, in the Dave Bolland mold, if you were going to compare him. He does all the little things. He just knows how to play hockey. A coach would feel very safe with him on the ice, and he's only 20."

The Kids - Nick Leddy & Jeremy Morin: B+

Chicago has seen enough of Morin that he clearly has the goods to be in the NHL, his only question is health; he's missed a big part of the Rockford season because of a number of injuries. However, with a summer to get his body back to 100 percent, Morin should make the NHL.

If we assume Morin and Krüger are in the NHL, we can add their existing contracts to the mix.

Marcus Krüger  $  0.900
Jeremy Morin  $  0.917

What about the restricted free agents?

First, we'll address the second-tier RFAs on the current roster that will likely be back in the NHL.

Given the Blackhawks need for a gritty, effective center on their fourth line, it's reasonable to believe that Jake Dowell could be invited back for a similar salary to what he's making this season. With Toews, Bolland and Dowell back at center, the Hawks would have good consistency on the roster.

Considering his history of being able to score goals and versatility, it is also resonable to believe that Michael Frolik will be back next year, and could be signed for a dollar amount in the neighborhood of his current cap number (replacing Tomas Kopecky on the bottom line). That would be a moderate raise on his base salary this season if he doesn't achieve performance bonuses.

The third and final RFA in the second tier that will undoubtedly receive a new deal will be the other player acquired with Frolik from Florida, goalie Alexander Salak. He is currently playing in Sweden - putting up great numbers - but has limited experience against NHL talent. He is finished up an entry-level deal this year with a $1.3M cap number, but that number could come down because he lacks NHL experience and would, in theory, be backing up Corey Crawford.

You'll note that I am not assuming a return invitation for Viktor Stalberg. We'll touch on that later.

If we assign conservative cap numbers to Dowell, Frolik and Salak coming back next year, here is what they could like up at:

Jake Dowell  $  0.600
Michael Frolik  $   1.250
Alexander Salak  $   1.000

Let's now add Morin and Krüger to these three. That's $4.667M for five players, all of whom could, and should, be in Chicago next year for those dollar amounts.

Now let's take a step up and address the three biggest concerns for fans: Brent Seabrook, Troy Brouwer and Corey Crawford. All three should be back in Chicago next year, and can be afforded under the cap.

If we assume Seabrook receives a cap number similar to Byfuglien, which is pretty safe and conservative, that's a pretty heavy obligation on the Hawks blue line. But having a top five of Keith, Seabrook, Campbell, Hjalmarsson and Leddy locked up might be the best top-five in the NHL for the next two or three years. It also takes the pressure off finding, and overpaying, a shut-down guy for the sixth spot.

Brouwer must be back. He's emerging as a solid power forward and consistent 20-goal scorer no matter which line he's on, which is something that cannot be over stated enough.

Crawford is having a Calder Trophy-worthy season between the pipes, but odds are that he won't win the Stanley Cup this year like Antti Niemi did in 2010. His negotiating position won't be nearly as strong as Niemi's was last summer.

So let's assign fair market values to Seabrook, Brouwer and Crawford:

Brent Seabrook  $  5.250
Corey Crawford  $   2.000
Troy Brouwer  $   2.500

That's a total for those three of $9.750M. Where does that leave the Hawks total? Well, here's a theoretical lineup using the players we've discussed:

Forwards

  • Kane-Toews-Sharp
  • Frolik-Krüger-Hossa
  • Brouwer-Bolland-Morin
  • Bickell-Dowell-Scott

Defense/Goalies

  • Keith-Seabrook
  • Campbell-Hjalmarsson
  • Leddy-________
  • Crawford/Salak

That doesn't look too bad, does it? Granted, Scott will likely be in a reserve roll again next year (unless Bowman's a magician and can make him disappear somehow), so it's safe to believe the Hawks would be looking for one more forward and at least one defenseman.

With this projected lineup, and using the conservative projected salaries listed, the Blackhawks would have over $4M to spend on a sixth defenseman, a 12th forward and perhaps one more role player. If Stalberg can be retained for the same $800k cap number he has for this season, he could compete for that final forward spot and the Hawks would then have roughly $3.2M to spend on two players.

So, please, read this and take a deep breath, Blackhawks fans. The organization can afford to put a good roster on the ice next year, and it includes the important RFAs on the current roster.

Comments

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  • this really does sound great tab for sure. we do have some great prospects and of course quality players now tab. i guess my question is? who do you think or have a guess about who the 2 or 3 new hawks would be? you did mention another role player, another forward, and of course another guy on defense for next year. i loved the article tab. well my only ? is who those 2 or 3 new players could be next year. well cool article and i really hope you have an answer for this man. thanks much. kevin from LF/chicago..

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