The Chicago Blackhawks enter the 2012-13 season in similar shape to the season before. One similar component on both teams is the available room under the salary cap for GM Stan Bowman to use.
Don't expect Bowman to break open the piggy bank anytime soon.
As was the case for a good part of the 2011-12, the 'Hawks were operating with wiggle room that we all figured would be used at the trade deadline to help push Chicago to the top of the standings. The stockpile went unused, both last spring and through the summer free-agent period.
According to capgeek.com, the Blackhawks have about $7.75 million in reserve at this current time with 23 players on the roster. That does not include the $3.125 hit of Rostislav Olesz, who spent most of last season in Rockford and figures to do so again unless Bowman can make that contract disappear.
Even if somehow Olesz winds up on the opening-night roster, Chicago will have some flexibility when it comes to adding to the lineup at some point in the season. How long does Bowman sit on that money?
It seems pretty obvious that Bowman isn't going to make any moves until a collective bargaining agreement can be decided upon. Whether that comes next week or around Thanksgiving, Bowman isn't in spending mode until a deal is done.
A season ago Bowman was still paying Cristobal Huet over $5 million, which provided a reason for debate as to why the 'Hawks were loathe to part with their cap space. That isn't the case right now, though Olesz still has to be paid whether he makes the team or not.
With the league facing such uncertainty, it isn't a shock that Bowman isn't loading up his roster. Nor does he have the cap space of other teams in the NHL. However, there is money available to add some pieces of value when the time comes.
Will Bowman part with his surplus when the time is right? That depends on when the season starts, as well as how several prospects pan out. If the youngsters are able to fill some of the holes around the lineup and veterans like Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa are healthy, Bowman may not need to bring in much in the way of help.
However, with what is becoming a perennial wish list at center and question marks in other areas, it remains plausible that Bowman will be faced with the choice of saving money or improving the team midstream.
That crossroads may not arrive for a few months if a CBA isn't reached. It is very possible that we will still be speculating on a use for potential cap space for a good while yet.