Back in March, I took an in-depth look at the looming Chicago Blackhawks cap crisis. The actual cap commitments are the same, as you can see in this breakdown of the 2010-11 scenario. (Numbers from CapGeek.com)
Chicago’s 2010-11 cap commitments (some cap hits rounded up for simplicity):
Forwards (9 of 12 spots covered): Toews (6.3); Kane (6.3); Hossa (5.28); Sharp (3.9); Bolland (3.38); Versteeg (3.08); Byfuglien (3); Kopecky (1.2); Brouwer (1.03)
Defense (4 of 6): Campbell (7.14); Keith (5.54); Seabrook (3.5); Sopel (2.33)
Goalies (1 of 2): Huet (5.63)
With three forwards, 2 defensemen and 1 goalie needed, the Hawks would still be about $800,000 over next year’s cap … and the cap could go down next season.
Before we go further, here’s a list of the team’s restricted and unrestricted free agents. Significant players in bold.
Johnsson, Kim UFA
Madden, John UFA
Boynton, Nick UFA
Burish, Adam UFA
Greentree, Kyle UFA
Richmond, Danny UFA
Cullimore, Jassen UFA
Petiot, Richard UFA
Cullen, Mark UFA
Bois, Danny UFA
Ladd, Andrew RFA
Skille, Jack RFA
Eager, Ben RFA
Davis, Nathan RFA
Brophey, Evan RFA
Niemi, Antti RFA
Brennan, Mike RFA
Fraser, Colin RFA
Hjalmarsson, Niklas RFA
Hendry, Jordan RFA
Toivonen, Hannu RFA
Sawyer, Jean-Claude RFA
Hobson, Adam RFA
MacArthur, Peter RFA
Bickell, Bryan RFA
Antti Niemi’s ascent
Far and away, the free-agent-to-be whose stock rose the most is the Finnish goalie Niemi. After a very nice regular season, he’s making a name for himself as the Blackhawks’ clear No. 1. Niemi is 12-4 with a 2.33 GAA and 92.1 save percentage in the playoffs.
As I listed above, the Blackhawks are already over the current cap going into next season and have a staggering six roster spots to fill. Niemi doesn’t have much of a track record, but judging by the fact that Chicago splurged $5.62 million on Cristobal Huet, who’s to say a team won’t throw big money at Niemi?
It honestly might take paying Huet to go to the minors (or loaning him out to the KHL) to even consider keeping him around.
More analysis of what’s changed in Chicago after the jump.
The Byfuglien effect?
Before the playoffs, Dustin Byfuglien was often pointed to as trade bait. After all, he was the team’s most frustrating player, right?
Now he’s the talk of the town. The unexpected hero. He has four GWGs in the playoffs, so far, and even won the last two games for Chicago. He was also a big thorn in the side of the Vancouver Canucks in the second round.
Perhaps the Blackhawks could do what would be very painful, and use Byfuglien to get rid of an albatross like Cristobal Huet or Brian Campbell. It’s sort of like tricking your dog to take medicine by putting it in food. Or something.
On the verge of change
So what does this all mean? One of the biggest advantages the Blackhaws possess is their insane depth. While Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and now Byfuglien receive most of the acclaim, the team also counts on production from players such as Kris Versteeg and Patrick Sharp.
Chances are – unless the cap goes up a lot – the team will depend heavily upon their top dogs. While NHL teams can live off of firepower, my guess is that things will be a lot tougher for the Blackhawks going forward.
That’s why, despite being stocked with young talent, this might be Chicago’s best chance of winning a Cup.