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Why the Blackhawks shouldn’t worry about blowing up their roster this off-season

Jared Clinton
By:
The Hockey News
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Why the Blackhawks shouldn’t worry about blowing up their roster this off-season

Jared Clinton
By:

The Chicago Blackhawks’ salary cap issues are going to cause them to make changes to their roster, which could mean moving out core players such as Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell. GM Stan Bowman shouldn’t worry, though, as his work to acquire some solid prospects could soften the blow of losing two veteran depth forwards.

The Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory isn’t yet a day old, but even before the series was over there were questions about what the future will hold for this Chicago club. One thing is for certain: for the third time post-Cup victory, the Blackhawks roster is going to need to be blown up in order to remain salary cap compliant. As far as the betting world goes, some aren’t seeing that as an issue. As of Tuesday,
Chicago is already back atop the favorites for the 2016 Stanley Cup. You won’t find many who will be blindly betting on the Blackhawks to pick up back-to-back Stanley Cups, though. Even with a powerful top-six and quality depth forwards, the changes in the Windy City could be plentiful as Chicago will be getting younger, cheaper and, truthfully, at least on paper, slightly less talented.

The issue for the Blackhawks, obviously, is the salary cap. With eight forwards, three defensemen and three goaltenders under contract, Chicago currently has $64 million tied up in salary. With cap projections putting next year’s limit at $71 million, that gives GM Stan Bowman just seven million dollars to ink four forwards and round out the blueline on a team that had defensive depth issues already. Obviously, the biggest cap hits come from stars
Jonathan Toews and
Patrick Kane, who have matching $10.5 million dollar contracts. That’s $21 million of a $71 million cap – roughly 29.6 percent of the limit – tied up in two players. To say that’s going to make things tricky would be an understatement, but, with some shrewd moves, the Blackhawks might not be in as much trouble as one might think. Up front, Chicago will almost undoubtedly be saying goodbye to unrestricted free agents
Brad Richards and
Antoine Vermette. Richards came into Chicago on a one-year, $2 million deal for the sole purpose of trying to win a Cup after being bought out by the New York Rangers. Vermette was a trade deadline acquisition who played outstanding in the Stanley Cup final but will come at too high a price for the Blackhawks to retain. In addition, unless they sign remarkably cap friendly deals,
Daniel Carcillo and
Andrew Desjardins, also a trade deadline acquisition, will likely leave the club as unrestricted free agents. Those are near necessities as, again, the club has a meager $7 million to work with. Next up, Bowman will work diligently to re-sign both key restricted free agents
Brandon Saad and
Marcus Kruger. There is almost no conceivable way in which Saad leaves Chicago, unless a team steps up and offers Saad a $7-plus million dollar offer sheet. Even then, don’t put it past Bowman to concoct some way to match. As for Kruger, it’s understated how important he is to the Blackhawks and getting him under contract is something the team will want to do. Like Saad, however, Kruger could be the target of an offer sheet. He could also be forced out by contract demands of Saad or because the front office is unable to free up money to re-sign the center. Otherwise, Kruger will be back. In all likelihood, the move for the Blackhawks after that is to look at their trade options. The prime candidate, as crazy as it may seem, is
Patrick Sharp, whose $5.9 million contract would give Chicago significant breathing room and allow them to acquire a few small pieces to fill out the roster. Any trade for Sharp is likely to bring back some salary, so the whole weight of his contract won’t be removed, but it could be enough to keep the Blackhawks in position to lock up Saad, Kruger, one free agent and use AHL players to fill out the bottom of the roster. Sharp has a no movement clause, but it’s still likely Chicago will look at ways to deal the four-time 30-goal scorer. He’ll definitely draw interest. Because of how well
Teuvo Teravainen played, it also makes the potential loss of Sharp a little less devastating to Chicago. At 20, Teravainen had an outstanding Stanley Cup final and worked his way onto the Blackhawks’ second power play unit while skating regular minutes including late-game shifts with a narrow lead in Game 5. That trust goes a long way with coach Joel Quenneville, and Teravainen will be a big part of Chicago’s success in the future. The Blackhawks could also attempt to move
Bryan Bickell, who was a healthy scratch for the last three games of the Stanley Cup final. His $4 million contract came after a big post-season in 2012-13. Bickell returned to playoff form for the 2013-14 post-season, but he failed to reproduce those numbers in 18 games this year, registering just five assists. To fill out some roster spots, the Blackhawks also went out and nabbed a big fish from the KHL, free agent
Artemy Panarin, who has an out-clause should he not make the NHL roster. Assuming Panarin comes over and stays in the NHL, that gives the Blackhawks a skilled depth forward for $821,500. They’ve also got a few nice pieces in the AHL, such as wingers 
Ryan Hartman
Joakim Nordstrom, and 
Mark McNeill and center 
Phillip Danault. On the back end, the Blackhawks’ trio of
Duncan Keith,
Niklas Hjalmarsson and
Brent Seabrook will stay in tact, but there will be no more
Johnny Oduya in Chicago. It’s not because Oduya has overstayed his welcome, but because, as things stand for the Blackhawks, there simply isn’t cap room to bring him back. Thankfully, the promising early-season play of
Trevor van Riemsdyk gives reason to believe he could become a steady blueliner for Quenneville’s club. In addition,
Stephen Johns could be ready for next season, as could
Michael Paliotta. There’s also
Ville Pokka, who was an important piece in the trade that sent Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders at the beginning of the 2014-15 campaign, and led all Rockford IceHogs defensemen in scoring with eight goals and 30 points in 68 games. With a roster that’s put together with salary in mind – and Sharp and Bickell out of Chicago – the Blackhawks could still have anywhere from $3-5 million to work with. That doesn’t rule out them being able to ink a veteran defenseman to help along some of the younger players or bringing in an asset in any trades they were to make. Getting back young, depth players on low-cost deals would be the right move, and something Bowman will likely look to do. Regardless of what happens, there aren’t many fans who would trade the past three Stanley Cups for more certainty going forward. The salary cap world has made it difficult to win with the same team consistently, yet the Blackhawks have managed to do so with the same core for several seasons. That will likely change now, but Saad, Kruger, Teravainen and
Andrew Shaw have stepped in to make a new core group. There were concerns after the 2010 Cup victory that Chicago would never be the same. The roster was blown up – key players like Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd were dealt – but they won the Stanley Cup again in 2013. After that victory, Dave Bolland and Michal Frolik were sent packing, yet Bowman was again able to build a roster that won the Stanley Cup two seasons later. It’s going to take some work, but to doubt Bowman this time would be foolish. It’ll be a tough off-season, but not one that will spell the end for the Blackhawks.

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Why the Blackhawks shouldn’t worry about blowing up their roster this off-season