Bryan Bickell (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks are continuing to fight a tough salary cap situation. First, in a surprising move, they cut Marko Dano and sent him to the AHL. Minutes later, it was reported they had waived longtime Blackhawk Bryan Bickell, who carries a $4-million cap hit.
In the span of 15 minutes Friday morning, the Blackhawks made two roster moves few saw coming.
First, to the shock of many, Chicago demoted Marko Dano. Dano, 20, was considered a near lock to make the Blackhawks roster. Acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Brandon Saad trade, Dano had found a nice fit alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, coincidentally the spot previously occupied by Saad. Minutes after news of Dano’s demotion, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported the Blackhawks had also placed winger Bryan Bickell on waivers. Talk about a busy morning.
The question now is what’s next for Dano, Bickell and the Blackhawks?
For the entire off-season and throughout the pre-season, it was clear Chicago would have to be clever when it came to managing their salary cap. With the dual $10.5-million cap hits kicking in for Toews and Patrick Kane, GM Stan Bowman was faced with a tough salary cap situation. Bowman’s predicament led to cap casualties in Saad, Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg and Johnny Oduya, but it appears Bickell’s name — and Dano's, for now — can be added to the list.
With Bickell on waivers, there are two possible outcomes for Chicago: either he’s picked up, along with his $4-million salary, or he’s sent to the AHL where the Blackhawks will get $950,000 in cap relief. Even with that relief, Chicago is on the hook for the remaining $3.05 million of Bickell’s deal. There’s little doubt, though, the Blackhawks would be overjoyed were another team to take on Bickell’s $4-million contract.
It has been long-rumored that Bowman has been trying to move the 29-year-old Bickell and, as recent as Thursday, there was a report of trade talks with the Edmonton Oilers. Nothing came to pass, which isn’t shocking considering Bickell’s recent battle with vertigo symptoms and a disappointing playoff in which he mustered only five assists in 18 games. It is a bit surprising, though, that the Blackhawks are choosing to potentially give Bickell up for nothing instead of attempting to recoup even a late-round draft pick for him.
Bickell’s potential demotion could have more impact than salary cap relief, however. If Bickell clears waivers by noon Saturday, the Blackhawks would then have more than $750,000 in available cap space. That would be more than enough room to bring Dano back from the minors should a demotion come in the form of Kyle Baun or Viktor Svedberg.
Even still, that won’t entirely alleviate the issues in Chicago. The Blackhawks will have very little wiggle room to maneuver through the season and, if Chicago is playoff-bound, they’ll have next to no money to make moves at the deadline.
And once this campaign ends, Bowman and Co. will still have the 2016-17 salary cap hanging over their heads. With Bickell in the AHL and Dano in the NHL, the Blackhawks would have more than $66 million tied up in 17 players with Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger and Viktor Tikhonov all eligible for some form of free agency. If the salary cap doesn’t see a significant bump, those three players will be near impossible to retain for $6 million. Even then, that gives Chicago little space in the coming off-season to improve or alter their roster.
The Blackhawks always knew it would be tough sledding once the Toews and Kane contracts kicked in, but the once-climbing salary cap has stalled out to the point Chicago is handcuffed by big-money deals to players like Bickell who no longer fit in their system.
Getting out of this mess is going to take a lot of creativity. Until Bowman finds a way out of this trouble, though, players like Dano could continue to toil in the minors while hoping for just enough money to free up that they can get a shot in the NHL.