Add the $3.5MM to Chicago's cap hit and they've got about $48,000 in cap space (over $100K if you figure in their bonus cushion -- oh, go ahead and spend it!), plus the $5.94MM summer overage. And that's for 15 players, one of whom is Cristobal Huet. Yes, he is almost certainly going to be demoted to the AHL or lent to Europe or whatever, but that can't happen until September, so until then his cap hit stays on the books.
Next up on the Chicago calendar is the Antti Niemi arbitration award (or deal, if they agree to one before the hearing). Hawks fans seem to think he'll get around $2MM and everything will be fine. I think he'll get $3-4MM, and everything will be not fine.
However, notice that, having absorbed the Niklas Hjalmarsson hit, they now have to get rid of someone no matter what [correction: not if the Hawks fans are right and they can get Niemi back for under $2.5MM; then they're okay.]
For the sake of argument, let's assume that they accept the Niemi award or sign him to a deal at $2.5MM (which is about the lowest I can imagine him getting, to give you a Best Case picture of Chicago's situation).
Let's assume the minimum wage for the minimum number of bodies. That's five players. But: one will be Corey Crawford, who gets $800K. Let's call the minimum $600K to give them some tiny amount of wiggle room. So that's four times $600K plus $800K (Crawford) plus $2.5MM (fantasy Niemi contract) minus the Huet hit, which gives us...
...about $38,000 in cap space, with a bare bones roster of 20, which includes seven guys making between $500K and $850K.
Frankly, I can't tell how much the Hawks like Niemi. Do they think they would be letting another Hasek go? Do they think he's easily replaced? Would they be happy with any one of the dozens of competant but not exciting goalies looking for work this summer?
This is what it looks like to me:
- If they love Niemi and want to keep him, and his deal comes in at less than $2.5MM, they can keep him without getting rid of anyone else. Whew!
- If they are fine with letting Niemi walk, they will sign one of those vets for under $2MM, and they won't have to get rid of anyone else except Niemi! Whew-minus. Or they could get someone even cheaper (e.g. Erik Ersberg) and upgrade some of those $600K guys to...um...$800K guys.
- If they love Niemi and want to keep him, but his deal comes in around $3MM, they will have to get rid of one of Tomas Kopecky or Troy Brouwer and replace him with a guy making $500K.
- If they love Niemi and want to keep him, but his deal comes in around $3.5MM, they will have to get rid of both of Tomas Kopecky or Troy Brouwer and replace them with two guys making nothing. Note that at this point, Chicago's forwards consist of 5 guys from last years' team, six guys making minimum wage and Marty Reasoner.
- If they love Niemi and want to keep him, but his deal comes in around $4MM, they will have to get rid of one of Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland or Brent Seabrook and replace him with another Marty Reasoner.
- All of this assumes that the Hawks only carry 20 players. Which leaves no room for error whatsoever.