The end of the 2014-15 season will mark the end of the current contracts belonging to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. It only takes a quick glance at the invaluable CapGeek.com to figure out that the upcoming offseason will go a long way toward determining how much the Chicago Blackhawks can afford to pay Toews and Kane two summers from now.
There's absolutely no reason to think that Chicago won't make the dynamic duo the main priority moving forward. Barring some sort of epic and colossal collapse in relations between players and team, both parties seem to want to maintain the current arrangement.
Scott Powers of ESPN Chicago quoted general manager Stan Bowman back in September, and the GM had strong feelings about keeping Kane and Toews in Blackhawks sweaters:
I can't predict what the salary cap will be in the near future, but I can tell you that Jonathan and Patrick will be on this team. Those two players put the Blackhawks back on the map. They're up in a couple years, and whatever the numbers are, we'll figure out the details. The notion that the money we're spending now will affect our ability to keep Jonathan and Kane ... it's a non-issue. They will be here no matter what.
Toews spoke to Kevin Allen of USA Today following Bowman's comments, and he echoed the desire to stick around in Chicago for a long while: "Right now, it would be tough to find any reason to want to play somewhere else. I don't think there is any place better to play in the league or around the world."
So let's just assume that both Kane and Toews will be offered new contracts next summer and that they'll ink those deals. Let's also assume that both players are in line for big raises. The duo signed identical five-year pacts with annual cap hits of $6.3 million the last time around, and given their level of play and age, it wouldn't be shocking to see them sign off on deals worth north of $7 million each.
While the 'Hawks are ironing out the details on new extensions for Toews and Kane this summer, they'll have to deal with the following free agents as well.
The importance of each of these players varies greatly. Yet even with all of those names coming off of the books simultaneously, the 'Hawks will only have around $4.7 million in cap space based on the current ceiling.
|Free Agents after 2013-14 Season|
|Michal Handzus (UFA)||Nikolai Khabibulin (UFA)|
|Brandon Bollig (UFA)||Jeremy Morin (RFA)|
|Brad Mills (UFA)||Brandon Pirri (RFA)|
|Sheldon Brookbank (UFA)||Andrew Shaw (RFA)|
|Mike Kostka (UFA)||Ben Smith (RFA)|
It's safe to assume that Brandon Pirri, Andrew Shaw and Jeremy Morin will all be given new deals as restricted free agents. The futures of Sheldon Brookbank, Michal Handzus, Brandon Bollig and Nikolai Khabibulin are much less certain.
The current bargain cap hits of Toews and Kane allow Chicago to bring in important depth players like Handzus and Brookbank. Even though the former has spent time on the IR this season and the latter doesn't play a whole lot on a nightly basis, they're important role guys.
Those kinds of players have been the difference between success and failure for the Blackhawks over the last four seasons, though, and their importance can't be understated. The question, then: Will the new deals for Kane and Toews handicap Chicago's ability to trade for and keep guys like Handzus?
That obviously depends on the cap hit.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin just signed matching deals for the Vancouver Canucks. At 33, the twins landed $7 million contracts. While there's no denying that they are special hockey players, they don't have two Stanley Cup titles on their resumes. They haven't led a resurgence for Vancouver like Toews and Kane have done in Chicago.
In reality, what's the price tag on priceless? What can Chicago afford to pay these two players for putting the team "back on the map"? If either guy sat down at the table and asked for a max deal, could the 'Hawks possibly find a way or reason to turn them down?
Consider the contract that Phil Kessel just signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs: eight years, $64 million. Like the Sedin twins, Kessel is a special player, but he's only 26 and is one of the premier snipers in the NHL. Can the Blackhawks sit down at a table and convince Kane that he's worth less money than Kessel?
Not in good faith they can't.
Could Toews and Kane take a hometown discount? There's a good possibility that they will, but even then, their contracts could total $7.5 million or more. The Anaheim Ducks were in a similar situation last year with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.
Both players are homegrown. They've won a Stanley Cup for Anaheim, and Perry has brought home individual hardware. And both players secured contracts for more than $8 million a season.
If Kane and Toews sign for that kind of money, it could dramatically change the way the 'Hawks are able to do business. They've been spoiled with low cap hits from Kane and Toews over the last half-decade. They're going to have to pay up now, though, and all told, the new deals could sap around $4 million from Chicago's payroll after the 2014-15 campaign.
The cap hit will have gone up twice by then, so that could ease the impact. Still, $4 million can net you a pretty outstanding depth player in this league these days. It can land you four Handzus clones for a Stanley Cup run or Jaromir Jagr for a year.
We're not saying that Chicago wants to bring in Jagr or four Handzus clones, but you get the point: $4 million is a lot of dough. Especially considering the glut of players that the 'Hawks will need to re-sign following the 2014-15 season outside of Toews and Kane.
Several big and important names for Chicago. Brandon Saad and Nick Leddy in particular stand out as must-keep players. Johnny Oduya has been outstanding for the 'Hawks this season as well, and it'd be tough to watch him walk.
|Free Agents after 2014-15 Season|
|Johnny Oduya (UFA)||Brandon Saad (RFA)|
|Michal Rozsival (UFA)||Nick Leddy (RFA)|
|Marcus Kruger (RFA)|
If Kane and Toews signed for a solid $8 million a year each, that would eat up $16 million of the $27 million (give or take a few hundred thousand) that the 'Hawks are projected to have following the 2014-15 campaign.
That leaves around $11 million (not including the unknown raise of the cap) for Chicago to re-sign all of the players listed in the two charts above. While it seems like a lot of space, it really isn't. Not when you have to try to keep outstanding young players like Saad and Pirri in the fold while complementing them with forwards such as Handzus.
While it seems a certainty that Kane and Toews will receive extensions next summer, the new pacts could cost the 'Hawks a few solid pieces that they may not be able to afford to keep.
That said, the core in Chicago looks outstanding. Once Kane and Toews are locked down, they'll join Corey Crawford, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjarmalsson and Marian Hossa as players signed for the foreseeable future.
Brent Seabrook's deal goes until 2016-17, as do the contracts of Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell. The picture here is quite clear, then.
Chicago will be able to do what it's always done: rotate known commodities out for draft picks (Michael Frolik, Dave Bolland, Dustin Byfuglien, etc.) while replacing them internally. Things may be a bit tighter in Chicago following the re-signing of Toews and Kane, but it will still be mostly business as usual for the 'Hawks.
Every team faces tough choices in the salary-cap era. Chicago is sitting pretty with its core group as it stands right now, though. That won't change too much after Kane and Toews are secured as lifers in Chicago.