To whom will the cash register?
As we temporarily allow the Blackhawks to savor their short summer and anticipate the Bears' first training camp under new head coach Marc Trestman next week, the money matters never go away. The uniform and salary numbers have been issued for each team's upcoming season, and the focus now will, and should, be on seeing on how close this group of Bears comes to the 10-6 record that caused the coaching change. And about the time they line up against the Vikings in Week 2, the Stanley Cup champs will be reconvening for their next camp under Joel Quenneville to begin their 2013-14 Cup-defending season.
The money matters brought up an interesting twist the other morning on 670 The Score. Brian Hanley and Barry Rozner made note of a listener's text message that came in, referencing the two main Blackhawks who'll be unrestricted free agents a year from now. One is Corey Crawford, who is in the final year of a contract that pays him $2.67 million. That's a very good price for a Stanley Cup-winning goalie, and one that won't last long. Yet the size of the payday Crawford has coming involves him having to build on what he's already proven, sustaining that level of play in a contract year, and doing that without his longtime goalie coach after Stephane Waite who moved on to Montreal. But there's also the interesting point the listener brought up: Scotty Bowman has a reputation for not paying goalies big bucks. Would general manager Stan Bowman? He chose not to after Antti Niemi won a Stanley Cup, but he also had Crawford in the wings. If Crawford has another impressive year, it'll be "pay up," or have an alternate plan in place.
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Tied into that Niemi decision was the money Bowman instead directed toward Niklas Hjalmarsson that offseason, matching San Jose's four-year, $14 million offer sheet. The second-pair defenseman is entering the last year of that $3.5 million salary and is coming off a strong Cup run in front of Crawford. With the prices just those two may command, do they remain part of this team's long-term core after this upcoming campaign? The question becomes more complicated when you figure that at this time next year, Bowman will be trying to extend the contracts of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and their current $6.3 million cap hits apiece. They're the centerpieces and faces of a franchise that's won two Stanley Cups in four years, and right now, their salaries are tied for 35th-highest in the NHL entering 2013-14. Only a handful of the 34 ahead of them have won even a single Stanley Cup. And, oh, by the way, Andrew Shaw's a restricted free agent next summer.
After taking care of final bits of money business with Marcus Kruger and Nick Leddy, then trading Daniel Carcillo to the Kings Tuesday, Bowman has the Blackhawks about $2 million below this season's $64.3 million cap, which figures to bump up slightly a year from now.
As for the 'Monsters,' Bears general manager Phil Emery should have himself a hungry group of veterans looking for their paydays, which could create a big headache for him, or make his decisions a little easier come January.
Everyone from Gurnee to Geneva to Mokena knows Jay Cutler's in the final year of a contract that pays him almost $8.5 million, and has a cap hit of almost $2 million more. Will he fulfill expectations under Trestman and force Emery to potentially write a check with double that salary, or write his ticket out of town?
Without a Henry Melton extension from a similar salary to Cutler via the franchise tag, what would another Pro Bowl season create? By choosing not to restructure Julius Peppers and his hit of more than $16 million this season, would another million added to that this time next year mean this could be his final season here? Emery desperately needs Shea McClellin to make significant strides, the way Corey Wootton did a year ago. But then Wootton's a free agent after this season, too.
Then there's the starting cornerback tandem of Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. Combined, they make more than $13 million this season, after which they're both unrestrcited. Safety Major Wright (who, by comparison, makes a "measly" $1.5 million), is the same after this year, too.
Offensively, Roberto Garza and J'Marcus Webb are the other notables in contract years, but then there's this: the dynamic duo brought in on the opening day of free agency -- Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett -- combine for roughly a $5 million cap hit this season. A year from now, those two will count more than $13 million against the cap, which is only expected to rise by about one million per club.
So who's "money" now? Who'll "be" money between now and a year from now? That'll go a long way into how that money's divided up, for the Bears and the Blackhawks.