After watching the Chicago Blackhawks win their first Stanley Cup since 1961 and then completely dismantle their roster, is it possible that this will become the new formula for success under the current hard salary cap?
This is the first time, in my recollection, that a roster overhaul of a Stanley Cup championship team has ever taken place.
The last time this occurred would have been in the MLB after the Florida Marlins won their first World Series in 1997 then were forced by budget constraints to deal many of the team’s core players. However, interestingly enough in this scenario, the Marlins were able to build from within and become a contender once again winning another World Series in 2003.
It is likely that many NHL teams will be forced to follow this type of blueprint if they wish compete for the Stanley Cup. The major reasoning behind this is the NHL’s hard salary cap, which makes it very difficult to maintain an entire roster of young, rising superstars.
The Detroit Red Wings, a team whose GM Ken Holland appears to be a master of working around the cap, even realized in 2009-2010 that the cap forces you to make changes.
Many of the teams that are currently preseason favourites for the 2010-2011 Stanley Cup are barely under the salary cap as the season approaches. For example, the 2009-2010 runner-up Philadelphia Flyers are currently $877,737 below the cap, according to CapGeek.com.
However, next offseason they will have key players such as Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux as restricted free agents. Giroux will definitely expect a raise from his entry-level contract worth $821,667. Philly will be hard pressed to be able to afford both core players.
But if you take a look at the UFAs available following this season, a plethora of defenders will be available—the likes of Sami Salo, Christian Ehrhoff, Shane O’Brien, Andrew Alberts. What makes this situation worse is that the club still has signed with RFA forward Jannik Hansen following his awarded contract through arbitration.
Another franchise who faces this scenario is the New York Rangers. New York currently finds themselves $465,833 below the salary cap for this season. Similar to the Flyers' situation, the fact that they have three significant young superstars on the rise might be their downfall.
Ryan Callahan, Artem Anisimov, Michael Del Zotto and Mats Zuccarello-Aasen will all be RFAs in the next two years. Will the Rangers be able to sign all three to long-term, lucrative contracts if they all play up to expectation?
In the case of the Blackhawks, while it does not appear very probable that they will make another run for Lord Stanley’s mug in 2010-2011, they were able to acquire some significant draft picks in deals for Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Brent Sopel, and Ben Eager. These picks, along with core players like Pat Kane, Jonathon Toews, and Duncan Keith, should make it a short building period similar to the one of the Florida Marlins.
However, it is very possible that the Hawks will be forced to part ways with All-Star defenceman Brent Seabrook after next season due to cap restrictions, similar to how the team was forced to part ways with RFA goaltender Antti Niemi this offseason.
It is becoming more and more apparent that teams are willing to build to win a Stanley Cup in the present, while sacrificing future seasons until the team can rebuild through the draft and become a competitor again.
With the extreme number of talented young players constantly making their way through the ranks, teams are having to pay big bucks to keep them in the fold, making it very difficult to keep an entire roster intact for any length of time. However, the ultimate goal is to win the Cup and anything afterwards can be dealt with when the time comes.
It seems likely that we will see more of this one-and-done mentality during the salary cap era as teams ignore the future and focus on the goal of winning a championship.
This strategy seems like a huge risk but the Blackhawks have exemplified that it can work. It will be interesting to see how many other franchises follow suit.