Hawk Talk: How Cap Increase Affects Hawks

Hawk Talk: How Cap Increase Affects Hawks
April 7, 2010, 3:01 pm
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010
9:57 AMBy Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.comThis is the latest update of a series of articles written over the course of this season that anticipate the changes the Chicago Blackhawks will make in the coming offseason with regard to the salary cap.Last Saturday came the news from Glenn Healy of CBCs Hockey Night in Canada that based on the strength of the Canadian dollar, the NHL salary cap will increase by approximately one percent, to 57.7 million, for the 2010-11 season. Healy cautioned that the increase will depend on current postseason revenue estimates holding up.This is a pretty huge development for Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and his charges. For much of the year the assumption has been that per commissioner Gary Bettman himself, the salary cap would remain steady in 2010-11, not topping the 57 million mark.That additional wiggle room will be the difference between keeping one more core player and having to let him go. Heres an educated guess at how the summer shuffle will wrangle out, with an assist from the cap hit chart at CapGeek.com:The Core (4)
There are four incomparable Blackhawks cogs. Under no circumstances will they leave Chicago anytime soon.RW Marian Hossa: 5.3 million
C Jonathan Toews: 6.3 million
LW Patrick Kane: 6.3 million
D Duncan Keith: 5.5 million
Total: 23.4 millionThe Essentials (5)
With more than a third of the cap tabbed for the core four, the next area of concern is the essential players. These five players arent necessarily better than the remainder of the teamthey are simply the most logical pieces for the Blackhawks to keep, no-brainers nearly on the level of the Core Four.With rookie Antti Niemi stealing the starters role from veteran Cristobal Huet, the Blackhawks goalie tandem should look different come fall, after Bowman packages Huets hefty contract along with a promising player or two. Plausibly, the Blackhawks can aim to extend Niemi at a modest rate and either rely on a young goaltender like Corey Crawford for 20 games or go shopping for one of many veteran netminders on the market at a discount price tag as well.Niemi makes 826,875 this season and is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent, so the Blackhawks wont lose himit will simply be a matter of how much at least one more season of the wunderkind will cost. This long-range (summer) estimate presumes Niemi not only establishes himself as a stopper and has a good playoff run. Niemis price tag will jump, so lets figure on a four-year deal at 10 million, which would triple the rooks 2009-10 salary to 2.5 million per season.Kris Versteeg also falls off the list of essentials given his unpredictable play. A team this close to Cup contention, with cap issues, may not be able to afford to carry such an elusive talent as Versteeg. His focus and temperament can vary wildly. On the other hand, Patrick Sharp has shown terrific flexibility in sliding over to center during Dave Bollands absence, and in the process has made himself much more indispensible with solid playmaking and disciplined two-way play. Sharps cap hit is steep at 3.9 million, but hes proving worth it with his best all-around Blackhawks season yet.With the Blackhawks locking up Keith long-term, it only makes sense to consider his blue line mate, Brent Seabrook, an untouchable. His 3.5 million contract seems just about right. Hell be due for an extension in 2011-12.Two other essential players make the list, primarily due to value per dollar. Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and right wing Troy Brouwer are outperforming their contracts. Hjalmarsson is barely 100 games into his NHL career but shows signs of being a star defender. The Babyfaced Gangster makes a mere 643,333, and as a restricted free agent after the season, it would make sense to lock Hjalmarsson uplets say 2 million per.Brouwer is signed for next season at a shade more than 1 million, which also makes him one of the biggest bargains on the team. Hes just moved to the first line alongside Toews and Kane, and the Wild Mans role should only increase as veterans are purged this summer.G Antti Niemi (2.5 million)
D Brent Seabrook (3.5 million)
D Niklas Hjalmarsson (1.7 million)
RW Patrick Sharp (3.9 million)
RW Troy Brouwer (1 million)
Total: 12.6 million

The Keepers (2)
Two players who perhaps arent the best bargains on the team will nonetheless be Blackhawks for years to come: defenseman Brian Campbell (7.1 million) and center Bolland (3.4 million). Both players are big contributors to Chicagos success, just at a cost thats more prohibitive than practical for a club wrestling with the salary cap the way the Blackhawks are. Soupys blue-chipper deal makes him untradeable, while coach Joel Quenneville is so enamored of Bollands ice awareness that it seems hell be in Chicago at least as long as the mentor is.D Brian Campbell (7.1 million)
C Dave Bolland (3.4 million)
Total: 10.5 million

The Bubble Players (12)
With 46.5 million on the books for 2010-11 and 10 players still needed to fill out the roster, this is where the squeeze begins. At an estimated cap of 57.7 million, that means those 10 players will basically have an average salary of a million dollars apiece.If you look at the five players youd consider filling out the 2010-11 team with who are currently on the roster and under contract: G Cristobal Huet (5.6 million)
D Dustin Byfuglien (3 million)
RW Kris Versteeg (3.1 million)
RW Tomas Kopecky (1.2 million)
D Brent Sopel (2.3 million)
Total: 15.2 millionand add the seven free agent players youd round out the roster with today with rough estimates of the costs of new contracts: C John Madden (2 million)
C Colin Fraser (800,000)
RW Adam Burish (800,000)
LW Andrew Ladd (1.8 million)
LW Ben Eager (1 million)
D Kim Johnsson (2 million)
D Jordan Hendry (700,000)
Total: 9.1 millionadd 24.3 to the overall estimate for keeping the team intact, pushing the total team salary to a mind-boggling 70.8 million.With 13.1 million that will need to be trimmed away, the ugly truth is that the Blackhawks cannot afford to bring all 12 bubble players back.Some snap decisions can be made to winnow the cuts down: Johnsson even at this return price of less than half of his 2009-10 salary is unlikely to return, Sopel is too pricey as a third-pair player, Huet has played his way out of Chicago, and the relatively low cost of Crawford (800,000), Fraser, Burish and Hendry make them safe bets to be on the roster. That puts the Blackhawks at 15 players making 49.6 million, leaving 8.1 million to be divided to fill out the roster. Six possibilities to come back in 2010-11, with the list to pick from looks like:D Dustin Byfuglien (3 million)
RW Kris Versteeg (3.1 million)
RW Tomas Kopecky (1.2 million)
C John Madden (2 million)
LW Andrew Ladd (1.8 million)
LW Ben Eager (1 million)
Total: 12.1 millionIt looks from here that Madden and Byfuglien are most on the bubbleVersteeg is in some jeopardy and will be coveted by many teams, but both he and Ladd have better efficiency from a points or a rating-per-dollar standpoint.Trimming Mad Dog and Big Buff would leave an empty space on the third pairing and at center. Those gaps could be filled out by Rockford call-ups like Bryan Bickell (re-signed at 600,000), Jake Dowell (500,000), or Kyle Beach (1,200,000) on offense and Richard Petiot (re-signed at 500,000) or Simon Danis-Pepin (85,000) on the blue line. Youd then have a depth chart along the lines of:Center: Toews, Bolland, Fraser, Dowell
Left Wing: Kane, Ladd, Eager
Right Wing: Hossa, Sharp, Brouwer, Burish, Versteeg, Kopecky
Defense: Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Campbell, Hendry, Petiot
Goalie: Niemi, CrawfordThats 21 players at a cost of 57.7 million.See, the dirty work is already done, Stan

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.