Hawks Catch a Break

Since we last checked in on the soap opera that is the Chicago Blackhawks cap nightmare, a few things have happened.

  1. The NHLPA voted to invoke the 5% cap buffer, increasing the cap for next season to somewhere around $59MM. I have heard estimates as low as $58.5MM and as high as $59.6MM. Give or take a million, that's great news for the Hawks. [update: the official upper-limit is $59.4MM]
  2. Stan Bowman has gone on record naming the names of the untouchable. They are: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa. Although I did not see any quotes that named Brent Seabrook, the Tribune added him to the untouchable list (although from wishful thinking or because Bowman said so, is unclear). Available are: Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp, Andrew Ladd, Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer, Ben Eager, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Tomas Kopecky, Antti Niemi, Cristobal Huet, Brian Campbell and Brent Sopel, and maybe Seabrook.
  3. The buy-out window has opened, and will close on 6/30. 
  4. I took the time to read up on qualifying offers and how they figure into the cap, especially related to the Hawks' situation. 

So, with all that, let's re-visit the Hawks 2010-11 roster. Capgeek's calculator is using $59MM as the cap ceiling, so I'll go with that (right in the middle of the possible range). [UPDATE:] The cap ceiling is set at $59.4MM. Now, the Hawks spent every penny of their bonus cushion last season, which put them (by my previous calculation) $4MM over. However, Darren Dreger recently tweeted that the actual overage figure is $3.7MM, so, giving Chicago the benefit of the doubt, we'll go with that.

[UPDATE: I corrected all the numbers below to reflect the cap ceiling of $59.4MM]

The overage is subtracted from league "upper limit" (cap ceiling). So, for Chicago, their cap ceiling is $55.7MM. Currently, the Hawks have 14 players signed with a cap total of $57.6MM, which puts them $1.9MM over the cap. However, in the summer, there is a 10% cap increase (which disappears after the last day of training camp). So, as of 7/1, and for the rest of the summer, the Hawks get another $5.9MM to play with. For the summer, they are $4MM under.

This is important because Chicago has two cap numbers to keep in mind. The most important is their (unique) cap ceiling for the 2010-11 season ($55.7MM). All the moves they need to make to get down under that figure, they have all summer to work it out. However, during the summer, they can at no time increase their cap hit by more than another $4MM. Why is this important? It's not. Unless:

  • They want to re-sign any of their UFAs (Burish, Boynton, Madden).
  • They want to re-sign any of their RFAs (Ladd, Eager, Niemi, Hjalmarsson).
  • They want to be able even to make qualifying offers to their RFAs.
  • They want to be able to match any offer sheets that target their RFAs.

The qualifying offer situation is the most interesting, since they have until 6/30 to qualify Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Antti Niemi and Niklas Hjalmarsson. if the NHLPA had voted down the inflator, it would have been impossible for them to qualify anyone (thus, Bowman's anxiety related to that particular topic). As it is now, they can qualify them, but they will not be able to sign more than one of them or match any offer sheets. This would be one reason it's safe to assume Bowman will be making some salary-clearing deals before 6/30.

But, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. I want to go back to capgeek and run the numbers, given the new cap figure.

 

As I said, the Hawks are $1.9MM over, with 14 players left to sign. Playing Bowman, we have to decide what to do with Campbell and Huet, then which if any RFAs we're going to try to re-sign, and finally which $3MM contracts we have to dump to make all that possible.

Campbell

  • dump in minors for six years -- well, that's just evil and unfair, since "we" are the ones who signed him to that giant contract.
  • trade him -- but nobody's going to take on a $7.14MM cap hit for six years, without giving salary back, and even then.
  • buy him out -- The savings would be huge. The buy-out cap hit would be a minuscule $2.381MM. However, that cap hit would be on the books until 2022. Which seems like a long time. Some might consider that a downside. However, I think it's the best solution (unless Sather or Sutter want to make a deal). Also, this gives Chicago immediate cap relief. If they want to go the demotion route, my (possibly flawed) understanding is that they can't do that until training camp, which will not help them at all in terms of, for example, making qualifying offers.
  • I almost forgot the fourth option. Keep him. He was good in the playoffs. However, since buying him out gets the Hawks the biggest bang for the buck, keeping Campbell means getting rid of at least one more big roster player.

Buying out Campbell, and burying Huet in the minors, gives Chicago payroll room (cap space) of $8.5MM, which is great. But. Unfortunately, the CBA doesn't let you have an active roster of only 12 players. They have to replace those two bodies plus the six other spots. In fact, this is as good a time as any to fill out the roster. Rather than naming names of prospects and old cheap UFAs (which we would undoubtedly squabble over), let's just set the average price of those contracts at $700K. Some will be more, some less. Eight spots, $700K per, that's $5.6MM. Add that to the cap. Chicago has cap room of $2.9MM. And a full roster of 20.

And they've only had to lose Ladd, Eager, Skille, Hjalmarsson, Niemi, Campbell, Huet, Boynton, Burish, Madden, and let's not forget Barker and Ebbett, who were sacrificed mid-season.

I've only got two problems with this plan.

  1. They got rid of both goalies, replacing them with minimum wage UFAs, for example, Andrew Raycroft and Manny Legace.
  2. The team has only three defensemen with NHL experience. One of whom is Brent Sopel. Sopel is the team's third best defenseman. I guess he's the shut-down defenseman. That's bad.

Part of the solution is, at least, to re-sign Hjalmarsson and Niemi. That's going to cost $5-6MM. Benefit of the doubt, we'll call it $5.25MM. In fact, since we're trying to be realistic, let's promote Corey Crawford as the back-up. Making those moves,  CapGeek gives us these numbers: $1.1MM over the limit, 20 players signed.

So we have to move someone to make that work. The obvious choice is Brent Sopel. Although that's a little scary now because he's now one of four defensemen on the roster who actually have NHL experience. But we have to choose someone. Pick one:

  • Sopel
  • Sharp
  • Versteeg
  • Bolland
  • Byfuglien

You can choose between letting one of four remaining defensemen go and letting go one of the players you would probably prefer to keep, in a perfect world. It doesn't matter really. Say it's Sopel. Not going to get much in return, a late pick (and will probably have to throw in a much better pick just to get someone to accept the trade). But at least you'll be under the cap, by about, let's see...

...$572,000.

Forwards: Kane, Toews, Hossa, Sharp, Versteeg, Byfuglien, Bolland, Brouwer, Kopecky, xx, xx, xx

Defense: Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, xx, xx, xx

Goalies: Niemi, Crawford

Gone: Ladd, Sopel, Eager, Skille, Campbell, Huet, Burish, Boynton, Madden, plus Barker and Ebbett.

...where xx = a player making $700K. (note: from the list of prospects under contract, eight of them make more than that, between $800K and $1MM.)

And that assumes the following best case scenarios:

  • the bonus cushion penalty is $3.7MM, not $4MM.
  • the actual upper limit figure doesn't come in below $59MM.
  • Niemi and Hjalmarsson don't command more than $5.25MM total.
  • Sopel can be traded.

Bonus hypothetical:

Many people seem to want to keep Campbell at this point. If you do that, you are instantly $3.5MM over the cap. So someone else has to go. Unless you're trading Hossa for picks, you have to get rid of two players. Yes, Sharp's cap hit is $3.9MM, but don't forget you have to replace Sharp with (presumably) a minimum wager, so you've still got another $300K to clear. Dumping Brouwer or Kopecky doesn't get you enough room, so the price of keeping Campbell is dumping TWO of Byfuglien, Sharp, Versteeg or Bolland for picks or prospects. UPDATE: Dumping Brouwer or Kopecky might just be enough to do it, given the $59.4MM cap ceiling.


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 concludes today's episode.

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