Huge If True: Who survives Blackhawks cap crunch?

Huge If True: Who survives Blackhawks cap crunch?

[Breaking down the plausibility of the week's biggest rumor.]

Well, Chicago lost in the first round and in a lot of ways it could begin to feel like the walls are closing in on a lot of players on that roster.

This team is quite likely to push a number of people out the door as they continue to attempt another run at a Stanley Cup while it's still a possibility. The list of guys who are probably going to be moving on from the organization is long, depending upon whose insight you believe, but there are a few players who aren't going anywhere.

First of all, there's basically no chance either Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane go anywhere, given that they each now cost $10.5 million against the cap, and are extremely valuable. Kane is about to be the reigning MVP, and while Toews didn't really have a good season (and an even worse playoff), he's still only 27 and viewed as an elite center.

You can probably also count Marcus Kruger, about to begin a three-year deal paying him just over $3.08 million AAV. Artemi Panarin, even with his massive bonuses, still seems like a steal as he enters the final year of his ELC. Marian Hossa, meanwhile, seemed to have the wheels falling off a bit toward the end of the year, but one cannot imagine a 37-year-old signed until 2021 for $5.275 million is an attractive commodity on the trade market (he also has a no-move).

Likewise, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are locked in for years to come, with the latter actually starting a not-good-at-all deal that will pay him an AAV of $6.875 million until 2024, and the former an absolute steal at just under $5.54 million through 2023. Niklas Hjalmarsson probably isn't going anywhere either, given that he's very good, just 28, and only costs $4.1 million for the next three seasons.

Finally there's Corey Crawford, an excellent goaltender signed at $6 million per season through 2020. He's not going anywhere either.

So that leaves potentially everyone else making a decent freight possibly sitting on the chopping block. And there are more than a few guys making that kind of money.

The Rumor

In all, Chicago has almost $65.9 million committed to 17 players for right now, which isn't a comfortable position, but it also doesn't seem like it could be ruinous.

However, you have to consider that Andrew Shaw and Richard Panik are pending restricted free agents, and that the team can't commit too much money going forward because Teuvo Teravainen and Panarin are both up for similar extensions the following summer.

And the fact that the bonuses associated with Panarin finishing in the top-10 in scoring (totaling $2.5 million in additional cap hit) are going to push the club over the cap limit, and the sizable overage will be applied to the club's number for 2016-17. And they're still carrying $1.125 million of Rob Scuderi's cap hit for next year as well.

“Cap squeeze” doesn't begin to cover it. So how do you fix the problem?

One guy who's not technically signed for next year, and who is for-sure not re-signing with the team, is Andrew Ladd. That's a consensus. However, Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune also thinks you can basically kiss all of Chicago's pending UFAs (Dale Weise, Tomas Fleischmann, Brandon Mashinter, Christian Ehrhoff, and Michal Rozsival) goodbye. That makes sense to an extent. I'd worry about the loss of a Fleischmann does to the team's depth but there are corners that absolutely need to be cut here.

Craig Custance, like Kuc and others, believes Stan Bowman should also absolutely look at trading pending RFA Shaw, because he is perhaps the most valuable-seeming expendable player on the team. Of course, on getaway day, Joel Quenneville said Shaw is “irreplaceable” so who knows what that means (endorsement, political maneuvering, or both)?

Both also believe that finding someone to take the Bryan Bickell contract ($4 million for one more season) is imperative but, uhh, good luck with that. There's also the possibility that if a trade partner can't be found, he'll be bought out.

More or less everyone also agrees that the team needs to improve the blue line. Keith remains fantastic, Hjalmarsson is as solid a shutdown defenseman as there is, and Seabrook, well, they like Seabrook. Beyond that, the D corps is iffy; Trevor van Riemsdyk is probably the best returning player on it. Which isn't great.

Kuc believes that Brian Campbell might take “a major drop in pay” to go for another Cup, especially because he has a home in Chicago. He further notes prospects Ville Pokka and Gustav Forsling could be ready for prime time.

To free up some cap space, David Haugh also suggests moving Artem Anisimov — the center on the wildly effect Kane/Panarin line — is a possibility.

Who's Going Where?

Lots to unpack here but basically: No UFAs retained, RFAs handled on a case-by-case basis but there's a distinct possibility at least one ends up elsewhere, they need to sign a middle-pairing defender (maybe Brian Campbell!), Bryan Bickell will either be bought out or traded, they might dump Artem Anisimov to save money, and also need to hope some prospects are ready for the NHL.

This is fine. Nothing to worry about here.

Custance says that a possible landing spot for the irreplaceable Shaw would be Edmonton, Buffalo, or some other young team that needs leadership. Who would those teams be willing to give up in return from their NHL rosters? Tough to say, but he'd have to be cheap. So that's a concern.

Just about everyone else is leaving town to destinations currently unknown. This is a high-level exodus event. We're talking about six or seven forwards and two defensemen just moving on and being replaced either on the cheap or from within.

The Implications

Basically Chicago is going to be in scramble mode this summer, and possibly for several more summers to come. The price of three Stanley Cups in six years is having more than $60.42 million committed to just 10 guys (Kane, Toews, Hossa, Bickell, Anisimov, Kruger, Seabrook, Keith, Hjalmarsson, and Crawford).

Even if you move one or two of those contracts, you're not in particularly good shape going forward. For instance, in 2018-19 and without making other moves from within the “core,” they'll still be paying a combined $56.42 million to just Toews (who will by that time be 30), Kane (30), Hossa (40), Anisimov (30), Kruger (28), Seabrook (34), Keith (35), Hjalmarsson (31), and Crawford (34). Yikes.

This has been the reality for the club, to some extent, more or less since they began their run and had to trade half an All-Star starting six. But the crunch gets worse as key pieces get re-signed. And bargain-hunting won't pay off forever, will it?

Maybe you say three titles with one group is worth the headache. I dunno. But Bowman can't be thinking about that when he's trying to work the phones in the next several weeks.

This Is So Huge, If True: Is It True?

On a B.S. detector scale of 1-5, with one being the most reasonable and 5 being the least:

Clearly many changes are going to be made, that much is obvious. To address the proposed or rumored ideas above, let's just go individually.

All UFAs allowed to walk:


(Everyone agrees it's for-sure going to happen.)

RFAs Richard Panik and Dennis Rasmussen are retained “at the right price:”

(Seems more likely than not.)

Andrew Shaw traded for D help:

(Also seems pretty likely, despite Quenneville's apparent love.)

Bickell traded:

Five Poops
Five Poops

(Almost no chance.)

Bickell bought out:

(Yeah that makes more sense.)

Anisimov traded:

(It just creates a whole different problem, but that cap hit is a major concern for what he provides.)

Low-cost prospects and bargain-bin pickups fill roster holes:

(Will happen. Fortunately for Chicago, good NHL veterans get dramatically undervalued every season, and you can always use kids on your fourth line where the damage they might cause you is minimal.)

Brian Campbell signs for practically nothing:

(Why would he do that? This is the kind of “player lives near here” rumor you hear all the time.)

Okay, thanks.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All statistics via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)