Will the Kane and Toews Contract Extensions Come Back to Bite the Blackhawks?

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Will the Kane and Toews Contract Extensions Come Back to Bite the Blackhawks?
Bill Smith/Getty Images
Defenseman Brent Seabrook

The Chicago Blackhawks took care of a huge issue last month when they signed superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to substantial contract extensions.

Chicago fans have celebrated two Stanley Cup championships in the last five seasons, and keeping Toews and Kane in the fold through the 2022-23 season means the Blackhawks should remain in contention for years to come.

However, there's a fairly important issue at hand. While the two superstars are the cornerstones of the franchise and it seemingly would have been impossible for the team to maintain its status without them, keeping them does not guarantee anything.

Check that. It means that general manager Stan Bowman will have a lot of work to do if the Blackhawks are going to maintain their "serious Stanley Cup contender" status.

The work begins this year, but it will increase dramatically with the 2015-16 season. That's when the contract extensions for Toews and Kane take effect. Beginning with that season, each player will be paid $10.5 million per year. They will earn $6.3 million each in 2014-15.

The Blackhawks are slightly more than $2.2 million over the salary cap with training camp set to begin in less than a month. By the time the Blackhawks open the season Oct. 9 at Dallas, NHL rules stipulate they must be beneath the $69 million salary cap.

While that figure should go up prior to the 2015-16 season, the Blackhawks are already committed to paying more than $65.7 million in salary-cap payroll that year, per CapGeek.com. The Gold Dust Twins will command nearly a third of that figure.

Bowman not only has to find a way to get the team below the salary cap for this season, but he has to manipulate the roster so that the two stars can continue to play for championships in the years that follow. The Blackhawks have seven players who will be unrestricted or restricted free agents in 2015-16, and Bowman has a lot of work to do if the team is going to remain in contention.

It's not just a matter of signing players like Brandon Saad (restricted free agent), Marcus Kruger (RFA), Johnny Oduya (unrestricted free agent) and Nick Leddy (RFA). Bowman will also have some hard decisions to make concerning players the team has who are under contract for future years.

Bowman will almost certainly have to take a hard look at stars like Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook to get the Blackhawks below the cap.

He will have to determine whether the Blackhawks can realistically remain contenders without them.

In Seabrook's case, he is scheduled to earn $5.8 million both this year and next. He has been a dynamic performer for the Blackhawks who has scored memorable goals from his position on the blue line next to Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith. 

Seabrook scored the series-winning goal against the Detroit Red Wings in overtime of the seventh game in their 2013 conference semifinal series, and he also scored the overtime winner in Game 4 at Boston in the Stanley Cup Final that season.

Seabrook had a strong statistical season in 2013-14, scoring seven goals and 34 assists and recording a plus-23 rating. He followed that up with three goals and 12 assists in the postseason.

However, BehindTheNet.ca reports Seabrook ranked 10th on the Blackhawks in on-ice Corsi (goals, plus saves, plus missed shots, plus blocks), and neither he nor Keith were regularly on the ice against the opposition's most dangerous offensive players.

If the Blackhawks move Seabrook, they would clearly feel his absence on the offensive end. But could they survive without him and still have a shot at remaining Stanley Cup contenders? 

That's one of the questions Bowman must answer. The development of young defensemen Adam Clendening and Stephen Johns will have a lot to do with the conclusion he arrives at. If both of those talented athletes step up this season, he may be able to trade Seabrook at some point prior to the start of the 2015-16 season.

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The ages of Sharp (32) and Hossa (35 and also has health issues) are also factors to be considered. 

However, even if they don't develop, Bowman is still going to have to make moves with his veteran players. The signing of Toews and Kane appears to mean that Bowman will be forced into making some hard personnel decisions over the next two seasons.

Keeping Toews and Kane in the fold was a no-brainer move for the Blackhawks. Failing to do so would have caused harmful on-ice and public relations problems for the team.

However, keeping them ensures salary-cap issues that are going to have to be addressed by management. Coming up with the right solutions will determine if there are more Stanley Cups in the Blackhawks' future.

If they fail to solve their issues, the Kane and Toews extensions could cause problems for the team down the line.

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