What do Campbell, Huet, Sopel, Ladd, Boynton, Bolland, Madden, Beach and Barker have in common?

In my previous posts outlining Chicago's clusterf*** of a cap situation for 2010-2011, I took it for granted that they had their bonus cushion situation under control. I was wrong. If the reports are true, Toews earned $1.3MM of his bonus by winning the Conn Smythe. What this means:

[we're talking about cap numbers for this season, not next season]

Chicago's cap hit 2009-2010: $60.724MM

Chicago's bonus cushion: $4.260MM

Chicago's cap hit factoring in the bonus cushion: $56.464MM

Cap space (employing bonus cushion): $336K

The bonus cushion, for those who aren't nerdy enough to dig into it, is essentially a cap-ceiling line of credit a GM has to spend during the regular season;  GM is allowed to exceed the cap by the amount of the bonus cushion, provided that as soon as any potential bonuses become actual bonus payments the team immediately gets down below the cap. If at the end of the season, the team is over the cap because of bonuses paid, the amount of overage is subtracted from the team's cap ceiling the following season. So, obviously, nobody in his right mind wants to spend the bonus cushion and get caught with his pants down.

Which is what just happened.

The $1.3MM bonus puts Chicago $964,000 over the cap. So whatever the cap is next year for everyone else, it will be nearly a million dollars lower for the Hawks. That is just deadly.

This is as good a time as any to revisit the Chicago cap projections for next season. So I'm going to go back to my old figures and update them. Here we go:

We'll start with the roster as is. Neimi, Ladd, Eager and Hjalmarsson are due raises. I'm going to call it $3MM, $3MM,  $1.8MM and $1.2MM. Your mileage may vary (feel free to offer better number than these in the comments; I think these are good enough ball-parks, but I will tweak under advisement). I figure Kyle Beach is ready, so let's imagine he makes the team in the fall. And then we can fill out the roster with minimum wagers. It ends up looking like this:

2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks
PLAYER BONUS CAP HIT
FORWARDS
Jonathan Toews $6,300,000
Patrick Kane $6,300,000
Marian Hossa $5,275,000
Patrick Sharp $3,900,000
Dave Bolland $3,375,000
Kris Versteeg $3,083,333
* Andrew Ladd $3,000,000
Dustin Byfuglien $3,000,000
* Ben Eager $1,800,000
Kyle Beach ($325,000) $1,200,000
Tomas Kopecky $1,200,000
Troy Brouwer $1,025,000
* Adam Burish $712,000
DEFENSEMEN
Brian Campbell $7,142,875
Duncan Keith $5,538,462
Brent Seabrook $3,500,000
Brent Sopel $2,333,333
* Nick Boynton $1,500,000
* Niklas Hjalmarsson $1,200,000
Brian Connelly ($287,500) $875,000
GOALTENDERS
Cristobal Huet $5,625,000
* Antti Niemi $3,000,000
* BONUS CUSHION PENALTY $964,000
ROSTER SIZE 22
SALARY CAP $56,800,000
PAYROLL $71,849,003
BONUSES $612,500
CAP SPACE ($14,436,503)

Hmm. $14.4MM over the cap. That seems like a lot. 

So, let's look at some potential strategies. Just brainstorming. 1) Hope the cap goes up by fifteen million dollars. 2) Hope for off-season career-ending injuries. 3) Hope their are GMs out there who are actually willing to do the Hawks "a solid," or else are even stupider than they are. 4) Seriously, try to get rid of some of these salaries. Toward that end...

Players they simply cannot touch:

  • Toews
  • Kane
  • Neimi
  • Keith
  • Hossa
  • Byfuglien
Players nobody will want to take off their hands, unless substantial incentive is included, and/or salary comes back, which of course defeats the purpose:
  • Campbell
  • Huet
Players not yet mentioned whose salaries are big enough to make a difference as salary dumps:
  • Sharp
  • Ladd
  • Seabrook
  • Bolland
  • Versteeg
  • Sopel
Every single possible decision tree begins with this question: what do you do with the horrible Huet and Campbell contracts? Options:
  • trade them, giving away other assets as incentives.
  • bury them in the minors, Huet for two years, Campbell for six
  • buy them out.
As far as that first option goes, show me the team that has the cap room to take on Campbell's contract. Now imagine that they are going to want more assets, for trading all that cap space to Chicago. Several high picks? Not really enough, is it? Maybe another roster player? So now you're looking at taking on $9-10MM per year for several years. Why not sign Kovalchuk instead? 

The second option, I think it's just pure evil. But I'm going to map it out anyway (not yet though). 

The third option. Buy-outs. I ran these numbers in my last post on this topic:

Buying out Huet reduces his cap hit to $1.875MM for four years. That's a savings of $3.75MM (cap hit).

[...]

Brian Campbell. Buy-out reduces cap hit to $2.381MM. Savings is $4.762MM.

(However, please note that the Campbell buy-out cap hit will be on the books until, wait for it...

...7/1/2022!

That probably seems farther away than it is.
Okay, for the sake of argument (and symmetry), let's go ahead and buy out Sopel, too. And then of course you have to replace those three bodies, so we'll promote three cheap prospects. And you end up with this:

Jonathan Toews $6,300,000
Patrick Kane $6,300,000
Marian Hossa $5,275,000
Patrick Sharp $3,900,000
Dave Bolland $3,375,000
Kris Versteeg $3,083,333
* Andrew Ladd $3,000,000
Dustin Byfuglien $3,000,000
* Ben Eager $1,800,000
Kyle Beach ($325,000) $1,200,000
Tomas Kopecky $1,200,000
Troy Brouwer $1,025,000
* BONUS CUSHION PENALTY $964,000
* Adam Burish $712,000
DEFENSEMEN
Duncan Keith $5,538,462
Brent Seabrook $3,500,000
* Campbell BUYOUT $2,381,000
* Nick Boynton $1,500,000
* Niklas Hjalmarsson $1,200,000
* Sopel BUYOUT $1,000,000
Ryan Stanton ($305,000) $897,500
Brian Connelly ($287,500) $875,000
Simon Danis-Pepin ($275,000) $850,000
GOALTENDERS
* Antti Niemi $3,000,000
* Huet BUYOUT $1,875,000
Corey Crawford $800,000
ROSTER SIZE 22
SALARY CAP $56,800,000
PAYROLL $64,551,295
BONUSES $1,192,500
CAP SPACE ($6,558,795)

Only $6.6MM over the cap. Getting there. Now we're to the meat of the dilemma. $6.6MM is three $3MM contracts (remember you have to replace each player you dump, so that's $9MM of savings minus the $2.4MM-ish in ELC or lowball veteran contracts, arriving at $6.6MM).

Three $3MM contracts. Or how about this: two $3MM contracts and also dump Boynton and also don't promote Kyle Beach, instead going minimum wage on those two slots. That will save $1-2MM. Okay, so now two contracts will do it. Select from:
  • Sharp
  • Ladd
  • Seabrook
  • Bolland
  • Versteeg
Doesn't matter to me. Everyone will have their own favorites. I randomly select Bolland and Ladd. So, to sum up, buying out Campbell, Huet and Sopel, letting Boynton walk, not promoting Beach even though he's ready, and trading Ladd and Bolland (not to mention Cam Barker, who was dumped earlier this season in preparation for this glorious moment), will that be enough? It looks like this:

Jonathan Toews $6,300,000
Patrick Kane $6,300,000
Marian Hossa $5,275,000
Patrick Sharp $3,900,000
Kris Versteeg $3,083,333
Dustin Byfuglien $3,000,000
* Ben Eager $1,800,000
Tomas Kopecky $1,200,000
Troy Brouwer $1,025,000
* BONUS CUSHION PENALTY $964,000
Akim Aliu ($22,500) $845,833
Ben Smith ($220,000) $812,500
* Adam Burish $712,000
Brandon Bollig $545,000
DEFENSEMEN
Duncan Keith $5,538,462
Brent Seabrook $3,500,000
* Campbell BUYOUT $2,381,000
* Niklas Hjalmarsson $1,200,000
* Sopel BUYOUT $1,000,000
Ryan Stanton ($305,000) $897,500
Brian Connelly ($287,500) $875,000
Simon Danis-Pepin ($275,000) $850,000
Shawn Lalonde ($195,000) $800,000
GOALTENDERS
* Antti Niemi $3,000,000
* Huet BUYOUT $1,875,000
Corey Crawford $800,000
BUYOUTS
ROSTER SIZE 22
SALARY CAP $56,800,000
PAYROLL $58,479,628
BONUSES $1,305,000
CAP SPACE ($374,628)

Still $300K over the cap, but that's okay. That's within the margin of error, if you ask me. So that works. You've got seven prospects in the line-up, but it adds up. You can ice a team. You don't have to forfeit games. And all you've given away for nothing is Barker, Campbell, Ladd, Huet, Sopel, Bolland, banished Beach, and let Boynton, Madden et al walk. Good work. 

And you are, by the way, still with your noses pressed right up against the cap ceiling. So, if anyone gets hurt, too f***ing bad. 

But what if Chicago doesn't want to buy-out  those three? Yes, it's true, they could dump Campbell, Huet and Sopel in the minors, and write off their entire cap hit. There's something inherently unethical and, well, unsportsmanlike in burying in the minors a player you yourself signed to a huge contract. I would argue that the franchise owes it to these players not to force them to play in the AHL for two years (Huet) or six years (Campbell). That's especially true in Campbell's case. Huet, I can almost see them trying it, but it's just so heartless. 

But, hey, let's pretend Chicago does this. Huet, Campbell and Sopel go play in the AHL. What further sacrifice is required?

Actually, not much. In fact, you could even allow Kyle Beach to play in the NHL, and might have room to sign a $1.5MM UFA veteran defenseman to boot. Your defense will be porous (Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson and four prospects, or three and a bargain UFA), your offense will have swapped out veterans for prospects on the third and fourth lines (ask the Kings how well this works out), but at least you will be under the cap, as long as you keep the $14MM worth of contracts buried in the minors forever. 

Oh, almost forgot. Next summer, Byfuglien, Seabrook, Brouwer and Crawford are due for new contracts. And you've got no UFAs to let go (oh, wait, Kopecky -- I stand corrected). So you're going to have to dump another big contract at some point either during the season or next summer at the latest. And it's the same list: Byfuglien, Seabrook, Ladd, Versteeg. Less than a year from winning the cup, and at least a third of the cast has been voted off the island. 

And let's not forget: we're talking about nothing coming back but picks and prospects. For several millionaires with cup rings. 
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