On Wednesday morning, the Chicago Blackhawks excitedly announced on Twitter that star forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane had each signed eight-year contract extensions with the club:
What the team didn’t announce was how it was going to fit them under the salary cap.
According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, both Toews and Kane come with an annual cap hit of $10.5 million. When those extensions start in 2015-16, the duo will be tied for the highest cap hit in the NHL, nearly a full $1 million higher than current leader Alex Ovechkin.
Can any team stay competitive with two players combining for $21 million in cap space? We’ll see, but at this point there is no reason to think that the Blackhawks face an impossible task.
That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, though.
Even before the Toews/Kane contracts kick in, the Blackhawks are in some cap trouble.
The Blackhawks are on target to exceed the 2014-15 cap by a little over $2.2 million. The ‘Hawks should be able to get out of the problem, but it will likely require dealing a useful support player—Bryan Bickell and Johnny Oduya, both of whom have modified no-trade clauses, are the likeliest candidates—and replacing him with either a prospect or a dirt-cheap unrestricted free agent.
That’s not a huge hurdle to overcome, and the Blackhawks would have needed to figure it out even without negotiating extensions for Kane and Toews.
But if the team is in trouble already, how will it handle the big bump in pay for Toews and Kane in 2015-16?
The projected roster for 2015-16 (including only signed players) has a cap hit of just under $65.8 million:
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|Patrick Sharp||Jonathan Toews||Marian Hossa|
|---||Teuvo Teravainen||Patrick Kane|
|Bryan Bickell||---||Kris Versteeg|
|Jeremy Morin||---||Ben Smith|
|Left Defence||Right Defence||Goal|
|Duncan Keith||Brent Seabrook||Corey Crawford|
|---||Niklas Hjalmarsson||Antti Raanta|
Of the six vacant spots in the starting 18 skaters, restricted free agents should be capable of holding down four of them. Brandon Saad will likely be the team’s No. 2 left wing, Marcus Kruger its No. 4 centre, and Nick Leddy and David Rundblad could both squeak into the top six on defence.
Aside from those four RFAs, the Blackhawks will need to find a No. 2/3 centre—depending on Teuvo Teravainen’s progression—to replace Brad Richards and will also need to add a No. 4/5 defenceman to take over for Oduya.
Additionally, two spare forward and one spare defenceman slot will need to be filled.
With a $69 million salary cap, that’s a pretty grim place to be. However, the good news is the cap is almost certainly going to be much higher than that.
During the same season that the new deals for Toews and Kane kick in, the salary cap should get a sizable boost from the revenue created by the league's new TV deals.
In early June, The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle cited figures from SportsBusiness Journal's Chris Botta, who suggested that the league's revenue will exceed $4 billion next season when the TV deals kick in. If the league's 2015-16 revenue is $4 billion, Mirtle noted that the salary cap would sit at around $76 million.
Therefore, without moving a player, the Blackhawks would have roughly $10 million with which to sign their four RFAs and fill in the gaps.
That probably wouldn’t be quite enough money—Saad’s getting a big raise, Leddy’s already at $2.7 million—but with the cap rising and a weak class of free agents on the horizon, Chicago shouldn’t have a problem dumping a contract at that point if it must.
In other words, the new matching contracts Kane and Toews just agreed to should be manageable—not only manageable, but manageable with only minor subtractions.
The Blackhawks shouldn’t have to take the kind of dramatic measures they did in the summer of 2010, when Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and others were culled in the name of salary-cap compliance.
General manager Stan Bowman will need to be very careful, and he’ll likely have to make a decision or two he doesn’t like out of necessity, but he should be able to keep most of the current Blackhawks together.
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.
Unless otherwise noted, salary-cap and contract information courtesy of CapGeek.com.