For the past week, the Chicago Blackhawks have been mentioned many times due to Dale Tallon's misunderstandings with his restricted free agents. After settling the issue with the NHL and NHLPA, Chicago managed to snag all eight RFA's.
With Kris Versteeg, Cam Barker, Troy Brouwer, Ben Eager, Cam Barker, Colin Fraser, and Aaron Johnson all signing new contracts with Chicago, some making more than expected, it seems that the future of hockey in Chicago is in for some struggles.
By re-signing all of these players and adding Marian Hossa, John Madden, and Tomas Kopecky, where does the Blackhawks' salary sit?
The answer is not good for Chicago because as of right now, the Hawks are about $4 million over the cap.
Likely, this means player like Aaron Johnson, Jordan Hendry, Colin Fraser, Troy Brouwer, and Jack Skille will all begin their 2009-2010 season over in Rockford together. By sending these guys down, the Hawks will barely be under the salary cap, but able to compete.
The real trouble is next summer, as many people are bringing up.
In the summer of 2010, the Blackhawks will have to make a push to re-sign Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith as they will be restricted free agents.
According to General Manager Dale Tallon, "These three are our top priorities next off season".
I would sure hope so, Dale. Jack Skille, Andrew Ladd, Jordan Hendry, and Niklas Hjalmarsson will also be restricted free agents next summer.
The Blackhawks might also want to think about getting some of their unrestricted free agents back before they hit the open market. Chicago's unrestricted free agents will be John Madden, Adam Burish, Ben Eager, Colin Fraser, and Aaron Johnson.
Another problem is that both Duncan Keith and Andrew Ladd are arbitration eligible. This means if Dale Tallon doesn't offer the amount of money these guys think they should be making, both will no longer be in the Hawks' future.
After reading many people talk about this problem, I have looked into it and Chicago really is not in as much trouble as one might think.
Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith will all be asking for more money than they are currently making, of course.
Everyone thinks Kane and Toews will not be together next year on the Blackhawks, but I see this differently. Both of them will demand at least $5.5 - $6 million a piece. That is not true.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will most likely be looking for a long-term deal with Chicago that has them making around $4.5 - $5.5 million per season. This might seem awfully low, but think about it for a second.
In 2008-2009, the NHL saw just 46 players making above $6 million. The players that fit into this catergory have proved themselves worthy of that kind of money. Just to name off some players from this list: Heatley, Crosby, Ovechkin, Hossa, Havlat, Spezza, Vanek, Chara, Lidstrom, Gaborik, Kovalchuk, Thornton, Lecalvier, Iginla, Phaneuf, Nash, Marleau, Pronger, etc. You catch my drift.
Kane and Toews are two elite players and getting better, but neither one has even hit the 75 point plateau in a season yet. Yes, they have both only played two seasons, but they are not at a point per game average yet like most of the players on the list above.
My guess is that unless they get 85 points or more this upcoming season, neither will be making above $6 million anywhere.
I think when the time comes for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to negotiate with Chicago, they will think to themselves, "How much am I really worth?"
Say they both have a season in which they play 75 games and get in the 65-70 point range, they will be offered between $4 -$5.5 million from Chicago.
Shall another club offer more than this, Kane and Toews will have to think about the future. They might want to sign a two or three year deal with Chicago, then when they are in their prime, they will be getting offers around the $6.5 - $7.5 million mark. Until then, they have not proved themselves enough.
They can either sign for less money and have the talented roster they will have this season, or they can make an additional $500,000 - $1 million elsewhere, but take a chance with a rebuilding or poor franchise.
In my eyes, I see these two 21-year-olds wanting to win. Every player would rather win a Stanley Cup than make an extra $1 million. There is no doubt about this, Kane and Toews will be hard to get, but when they think about the future they can have in Chicago, it might help the Hawks cause.
The other important RFA, Duncan Keith, will most likely also ask for quite a raise. Tallon seems pretty confident he can strike a deal with Keith before the season ends and will probably be worth around $5 million.
If Chicago is already over the cap by $4 million, how can they ever expect to retain these three guys, plus others?
Here is my solution.
The Blackhawks have 12 players on their current NHL roster that have no contract next summer. Without these twelve players, the Blackhawks have a payroll of $43,009,208. If the salary cap drops, as it is supposed to, it will most likely be $52-53 million. This leaves Chicago with about $10,000,000 in cap room.
With a few trades and an on-going rumor of waiving Brent Sopel, the Hawks can have around $15,000,000 in cap room.
If the cap should not fall, but in fact raise as it has the past few years, it will be around $58 million. If that does happen, Chicago will be pretty safe as they will have around $17 million to spare. We might see Versteeg or Sharp in a new home next year because they are the top two candidates to be moved if such a thing occurs.
Sharp makes $3.9 per year and Versteeg makes $3.06 per year. The Hawks might consider giving one of these guys up for not much in return in order to free up some cap space.
If Kane, Toews, and Keith all accept to play for less money in Chicago, they will accumulate around $11 - $13 million together. Hopefully this plan falls through, because if it should, the Hawks will have their top three RFA's back, but are at risk of losing some players.
I know this might seem like quite a stretch, but it could happen. I have no doubt Chicago is in trouble, but the situation may turn out in a pleasant way.
This dilemma truly comes down to next year's salary cap and what Bettman decides to do.