Kane, Toews, and Keith deals in a holding pattern

If you're wondering why the contract extensions for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith haven't been announced yet, it's because the Hawks need to juggle some salary issues before they can be put though. 

I can't even begin to understand or explain how it works, so I'll let TSN's Bob McKenzie explain:

kanetoewsbig_58928.jpg

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews

McKenzie:  Hawks need to clear cap space before deals announced

Decisions, decisions.

It's what the Chicago Blackhawks are dealing with now that they are on the verge of signing Pat Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith to long-term contract extensions.

Because while most of the work has been done to finalize five-year
agreements for both Kane and Toews -- worth more than $6 million per
year apiece  -- and a 13-year whopper for Keith -- worth a little less
than $6 million per year -- sources suggest the primary reason they
haven't been formalized and announced is because the Hawks need to make
things right with the NHL salary cap police.

Sources tell TSN that Chicago needs to do a little financial
reorganization in order to get the "tagging" room necessary to proceed
with the extensions for their three young stars. Tagging room is
effectively available salary cap space for next season.

Tagging room is calculated by totaling the dollar values of the
contracts that will expire at the end of the season plus the club's
available salary cap space that exists today. Whatever that figure is
becomes the maximum amount a club may commit to contract extensions for
next year.

For the Hawks, the ballpark figure appears to be around $18 million,
although it's impossible to get an accurate number. The extensions for
the Big Three may run closer to $19 million. So it's conceivable the
Hawks need to trim some money to get the extensions officially
completed.
 
Of course it's not as simple as all that. It never
is in the salary cap world. A team may increase its tagging room by the
amount of the Performance Bonus Cushion, or to the tune of another $4
million or thereabouts. So the Hawks may not be in dire straits here,
but the point is it is, at the very least, tight. Very tight. And it
may well be the Hawks are not in a position to extend their young stars
without moving a body and getting some additional tagging room.

Don't get the wrong idea, though. The Hawks don't have to tear apart
their roster this season to get these deals done. There may be some
really painful roster/cap decisions to make in the summer, but for now
it's more trimming than cutting that is required. And that is good news
for a team that looks like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

This whole issue may be as easy, or difficult, as finding a way to move veteran defenceman Brent Sopel and his $2.33 million cap hit this year and next.

On a team with Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Cam Barker,
Sopel is making far too much money for a depth defenceman. In the
hockey sense, he's expendable. And sources tell TSN that is the player
the Hawks are now trying hard to move.

But it may be easier said than done. Teams are loath to trade for
term and if Sopel is a luxury the Hawks can't afford, it's the same for
most other teams in the cap world.

Maybe there's a team out there with cap space and the budget to take
Sopel if the Hawks sweeten the pot with high-end draft picks, the way
San Jose did when they took Vladimir Malakhov's money off the then cap-troubled New Jersey Devils.

Or maybe the Hawks could put Sopel on waivers. If he were claimed,
it would free up $2.33 million in tagging room. But it's hard to
imagine a team putting in a claim at that price.

If Sopel cleared waivers, the Hawks could assign him to the minors.
His salary for the remainder of  the season would come off the Hawks'
cap total although Chicago would still be responsible for paying him.
As for the tagging room for next year, Sopel in the minors now this
year would give the Hawks a tagging room increase equal to the value of
his remaining salary for this season, a shade over $1.7 million.

Would that be enough? It's hard to say. These calculations are complex and confusing, to be sure.

What we do know, though, is that once tagging room has been
exhausted, if the club doesn't find a way to create more -- by dumping
more longer term contracts -- it can be a restrictive nightmare.

Let's say the Hawks have sufficient tagging room to extend Kane,
Toews and Keith but that there's no wiggle room beyond that. What it
means is that the Hawks, if they needed to recall a player from the
minors for any reason, could not call up any player who has a contract
that goes into next season. That would be a CBA violation -- you can't
overspend on tagging room -- and not permitted by the league.

Of course, if tagging room, or lack thereof, was a real problem that
couldn't be overcome right now, the Hawks could, as long as the player
agrees, put one of those extensions in a drawer and leave it there
until the off-season and make it official in the summer.

But the marketing savvy Hawks want to make a big splash and announce
they have locked up their three best young assets. So if I were a
betting man, I would say Sopel's days in Chicago could very well be
numbered.

But that's for the Hawks to decide. Maybe they can grind out the
numbers now to make it all work without moving Sopel (though I kind of
doubt it). Maybe they have an eye towards the summer and the many Cam Barker trade rumors we've heard for some time will come to fruition.

In any case, decisions, decisions...for a legit Cup contender.


The NHL salary cap is confusing to even the most
expert of NHL analysts.  Bottom line?  Moves need to be made before the
deals will be announced, but don't worry.  They are done and they are
coming. 

Leave a comment