The Annual Blackhawk Purge

by Alexander MacLean on December 29, 2016
  • Capped
  • The Annual Blackhawk Purge

This week's Capped discusses the Chicago Blackhawks, and what to expect of their annual salary cap purge. 

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Three Stanley cups over the last seven years is not an easy accomplishment. A large part of the Chicago Blackhawks’ success is based around their core five, of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford. Between these five players however, 54% (!!!) of their cap is eaten up. As such, Chicago has had to be very creative as to how they keep their roster under the $73 Million salary cap.

 

Over the past six seasons, Chicago has a long list of large contracts that they have had to dump in order to stay salary cap compliant. Between their initial modern-era Stanley Cup win in 2010 when they let go of Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, and more, to the past two years when Patrick Sharp, Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell were jettisoned, Chicago (namely general manager Stan Bowman) has done a marvelous job of managing the cap each year while remaining competitive. This season will be no different. Here are the three main points to look ahead to:

 

1) Artemi Panarin

 

Panarin is due for a large raise when his rookie contract expires at the end of this season. Chicago has two options. They can sign him to a long-term deal for the money he deserves, or then can part ways with him (be it by trade, or offer-sheet). Panarin has proven that he is worth a big payday, and could command a contract similar to the equally dynamic Johnny Gaudreau. Gaudreau signed a deal just a few months back worth $6.75 Million over seven years.

 

Patrick Kane’s emergence as one of the top-flight offensive threats in the NHL wasn’t tough to see coming, but having it be in part due to the chemistry with Panarin was unexpected. At this point it would be ill advised for Chicago to even think about breaking them up. This means that with another large salary projected to be on the books, Chicago will have their work cut out for them again to fit all the pieces of a competitive team together again.

 

Editor’s Note: As fate would have it, Panarin signed a two-year extension worth $6M annually mere hours after the submission of this article.

 

2) The Casualties

 

To sort out where the extra money for Panarin will come from, we need to look at the rest of the Blackhawks players outside of the core. There are currently four players on the Blackhawks not mentioned above that make over $1.5 Million a season: Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov, Markus Kruger and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Making matters even more complicated is the fact that all four players have some form of no-trade or no-movement clause. Kruger’s deal though, does not require him to be protected, so the best-case scenario for Chicago is to have him selected by the Vegas team in the expansion draft. However, the Chicago brass shouldn’t count on that, as Kruger is not overly appealing to a new expansion team. Additionally, that would only clear $3 Million, and they need to get rid of at least double that to make the numbers work.

 

Looking at it from the other direction, the $4.55 Million owed to Anisimov, should the Blackhwaks were to move that contract, it could solve most of their problems. However, with how well he has been playing beside Kane, there is no reason for Anisimov to want to waive his no-movement clause of his contract. If that is the case, then Chicago’s hands are tied in that regard. There is also no reason for Hossa or Hjalmarsson to want to leave the ever-competitive Blackhawks. As such, Chicago will likely have to trade Kruger and/or Hjalmarsson around their modified contracts. Should that fail, could this be the year we see one of the core players moved? Every year I think one of the Blackhawk’s core players (likely either Crawford or Seabrook) will be moved. I have been mistaken though every year until now.

 

3) The Next Wave

 

Chicago also manages to compete year after year due to their ability to replace depth production with young and cheap talent. Richard Panik will likely move on to a slightly bigger contract, unless he works out a short bridge deal with Chicago to eat up his RFA years. Past that, there is quite a mix of young names that could be ready to step up into bigger roles. Tyler Motte has shown glimpses of being a future fit on the Toews line, while fellow forwards Ryan Hartman and Vinne Hinostroza will be ready to move up to fill some spots next season. Top prospect Alex Debrincat has posted two 50+ goal seasons in the OHL, and is on pace for a third. (I also think Chicago just likes finding the hardest names to spell, for no reason other than to mess with us writers.)

 

On defence, Michal Kempny is acclimatizing himself to North America this year (albeit slowly with 2 points in 23 games thus far). After a solid career in Europe, he should be able to fill in on the second pairing next season. Ville Pokka is also in the pipeline, and will be knocking on the door sooner rather than later, as he has had some consistent numbers in the AHL over the last few years.

 

All-in-all, Chicago has some very inexpensive, young players coming through the pipeline, so in that way, they will move forward as always.

 

To recap, Chicago has three main steps upcoming in order to sort out their Salary Cap situation for next year. First and foremost, they must sort out how to pay Panarin. Panarin has become a key piece of this team, and moving forward would be much more difficult without him. The fallout from Panarin’s contract will result in Chicago having to clear out another contract, or contracts, in order to stay below the $73 Million Salary Cap ceiling. Clearing out some of the pricier contracts will mean there are open spots on the roster. Chicago will then have to go dumpster diving in the summer free-agent market, and hope that some of their younger talent can step up. If all goes according to the plan as in years past, then Chicago should continue to be a great place to find the core of a few fantasy teams if you can manage their salaries properly.

 

I would also be curious to hear some thoughts on which Blackhawk you think may be the odd one out, and why.

 

Thanks as always for reading, and Happy Holidays to all.