Without knowing exactly what conversations Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman is having with his counterparts around the NHL, it’s impossible to say with certainty what his best play is as he attempts to bring the ‘Hawks back under the league's salary cap.
From the outside, however, a trade involving defenceman Nick Leddy would seem to make a world of sense.
Let’s consider the boxes Chicago would presumably like to check off in a deal made to ease its cap woes:
- Ideally, a trade would solve the immediate problem in a single move.
- Optimally, the player traded would have enough value that the ‘Hawks wouldn’t need to add a sweetener to get a deal done.
- Better still, it would be great if the team could land a tangible return for the player moved out.
- In a perfect world, this player is replaceable with a cheap internal option.
- If would also be advantageous if the trade had some effect on 2015-16, when Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews' extensions kick in.
If pressed, Chicago could go with just one spare forward and one spare defenceman at the start of the year, sending someone like Teuvo Tervainen ($894,000 cap hit) to the minors for seasoning or burying a contract like that of Kris Versteeg (which would free up $925,000 in space).
In other words, Chicago needs to clear roughly $1.3 million in cap hit, plus potentially the cost of a replacement. Moving Versteeg wouldn’t quite do the trick, even without a call-up. Trading Michal Rozsival ($2.2 million cap hit) could do it, but it would be awfully tight.
Leddy, though, has a significant $2.7 million cap hit.
Even with the cost of a replacement on the blue line, there are any number of scenarios where Chicago would be free and clear of the 2014-15 cap if he were to be moved for futures.
The other thing about Leddy is that, unlike Versteeg and Rozsival, he should have some cachet around the NHL.
He’s still young (he turned 23 in March), has significant draft pedigree (drafted 16th overall in 2009) and is already a useful NHL player, scoring 31 points during the 2013-14 season and playing more than 16 minutes per game for a championship-caliber team.
Leddy’s not the kind of player a team dumps just because. Chicago would presumably be able to get a real return if it were willing to trade him away.
The clincher is that despite his value, there is an obvious heir apparent to Leddy’s position on the team.
In Adam Clendening, the Blackhawks have an offensive defenceman who has posted huge numbers in the AHL and could likely step right into Leddy’s even-strength and power-play minutes. As we noted in Tuesday’s look at Chicago’s 10 best prospects, Clendening is not only seasoned but adds a physical edge that Leddy really does not.
The cap benefits would go beyond this year, too. Leddy will be a restricted free agent next summer, and it’s a reasonably safe bet that he isn’t going to sign for less than his current $2.7 million cap hit (and $3.4 million salary).
That’s a headache Chicago doesn’t need as the Toews and Kane extensions kick in and Brandon Saad’s bargain contract ($764,000 cap hit, before bonuses) comes to an end.
Clendening will be a restricted free agent at the same time, but he’ll be a rookie coming off his entry-level deal. Even with a strong season, his leverage wouldn't compare to Leddy’s. The cap benefits therefore extend well beyond 2014-15.
Doubtless, Chicago would prefer to keep Leddy. The team’s salary-cap situation forces sacrifice, though, and Leddy has a significant contract, value around the league and an obvious replacement waiting in the wings.
Dealing him could well be the easiest of the tough decisions the ‘Hawks are now considering.
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.