If you haven’t noticed, this summer has been pretty tough on Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman. After the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in June, it wasn’t long after that that the dismantling of a championship team began. Their moves have been high profile and roundly criticized by many people, questioning Bowman’s ability to keep a team together in the salary cap era. What fans and critics alike don’t realize is that Bowman knew all along the situation Chicago was in and that, as the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh tells us, the Blackhawks’ plan was to do it this way all along.
Turns out the 2010 Stanley Cup champions’ tricky winning equation depended on spending slightly more than $60 million when last year’s cap was set at $56.8 million. The roughly $4 million overage came in the performance bonuses paid to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, money the Hawks chose to count against next season’s cap, as league rules permit, instead of affecting the go-for-it-all 2010 season.
Had Bowman decided to apply the anticipated $4 million hit to last season, the Hawks likely would have attempted to win the Cup without, say, Andrew Ladd and Ben Eager.
“Perceptions are, ‘Geez, the Blackhawks mismanaged the salary cap,’ but I’d say we did the opposite — we managed the hell out of it,” Bowman said. “We exploited it in a way.”
While so much of this summer’s other news has involved finding ways to make the salary cap work for a team instead of against it (Ilya Kovalchuk’s disputed contract with New Jersey for example), the way the Blackhawks managed to do it was completely within the confines of the rules, as the salary cap punishment to the Blackhawks this year proves. After all, if you’re going to go for broke, doing it while winning the Stanley Cup is the most fun way to do it.
Had the Blackhawks lost in the finals to the Flyers, the same thing would’ve happened this summer anyhow. Picture the heartache and anger that would’ve resonated around the Blackhawks had they failed to win it all last year. Imagine how well dealing Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager and losing Antti Niemi would’ve gone over. Well, getting rid of a Cup-losing goalie might’ve gone over a little easier but it’s safe to say that disaster was completely avoided in Chicago through Bowman’s gutsy (and risky) move to go push all in, salary cap be damned.
Will this be a model for other teams desperate to win the Cup to follow? Possibly. Some teams might find themselves trapped against the cap thanks to bad contracts, but having the ability to bring in a big name to be the missing piece like Marian Hossa while having younger talent blossom and come together all at once is the kind of chemistry experiment that is hard to make work when your window for success is so short like it was for Chicago. Whether this sort of thing pan out for teams like Vancouver or Boston that are in similar cap positions remains to be seen, but the Blackhawks have at least provided a very high-risk blueprint for success in the meantime.