By Shane Nicholson
The parade’s over; the celebrations have died down. For Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman next season has already begun.
The NHL’s salary cap is expected to come in just a shade over $70 million for season 2015-16, meaning Bowman and team are going to be left with more than a handful of tough decisions.
“Everyone wants to know if it’s a good number or a bad number,” Bowman told the Chicago Tribune. “Obviously if it was $80 million it would be easier for us. If it’s going to be 70 or 71, what it will be, we’ll make it work.”
So what can Hawks fans expect as the team pushes on for a fourth Stanley Cup in this incredible run? Not a post-2010 breakdown that saw a load of players jettisoned as Bowman set up the roster to sustain the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oudya for the long term.
But changes are coming. The Hawks have commitments of roughly $65 million on the books already for next season with eight roster spots to take care of. And one young star is likely to eat up the remaining $6 million-or-so by himself. How does Bowman build another contender?
The Sharp end of the stick
Patrick Sharp has been crucial to all three of Chicago’s Cup runs, but the left winger finished with his lowest point total since 2006-07 and was shuffled around the top-3 lines throughout the playoffs.
His cap hit of $5.9 million for next year made him a target to be moved before he went AWOL for large portions of the playoffs. But at 33 he’s still one of the top wingers on the market, especially in what’s a thin year for free agents.
Sharp’s role in Quenneville’s side may be limited but on nearly any other team in the league he’s still going to feature on a top-2 line and play critical special teams minutes. Plus there just aren’t a lot of four-time 30-goal scorers available for a price that’s manageable for many teams.
And you can expect Bryan Bickell to be hot on his heels out the door should Bowman find a suitor. After an abysmal playoffs the Hawks GM would take anything beyond a half-dozen practice pucks to clear Bickell’s $4 million cap hit off the books.
The problem is of course that he’s just not that good. The Hawks paid him because he was one of Q’s guys. Now that he’s not that he’s not really much of anything besides a contractual albatross and a hopeful sell.
Bowman has to convince another GM that Bickell is something more than a vanity project and then sign the papers as quickly as possible.
Saad and done
That $6 million that’s currently available? You can go ahead and hand that to winger Brandon Saad.
The 22-year-old restricted free agent has shown he’s ready to step into Sharp’s role on the top lines. While he’s due for a raise from his $842,000 last year–and could certainly command a sizable contract on the open market–Saad has already said he’s willing to sign for a hometown discount to form part of the core of the next Chicago championship team.
After him you’ve got Marian Hossa on the books until the apocalypse–though at a reasonable $5.3 million this year–and Andrew Shaw and Teuvo Tervainen ready to move into more important offensive roles. Kris Versteeg is sure to stick around, and Bowman has said he’d like to retain Andrew Desjardins and Marcus Kruger.
That means Brad Richards, Antoine Vermette and the absentee Daniel Carcillo are on their way out, with only the IceHogs’ Joakim Nordstrom likely to remain from the rest of the forwards up for renewal.
Johnny on the spot no more
While the big 3 of the blue line are set in stone that fourth option appears up for grabs. That’s because Johnny Oduya is set to become a casualty of the downward moving cap.
Having the excuse of contracting finances will make the task easier for Bowman to ax Seabrook’s partner. Oduya had a shaky playoffs and looked over matched throughout both the Anaheim and Tampa Bay series at times.
You can expect Trevor van Riemsdyk to move up the pecking order, assuming the ex-IceHog can stay healthy. After that, finding depth in defense will be one of Bowman’s biggest tasks for the summer.
“We’re gonna do our best to keep the guys that we can,” he said earlier this week.
But for the Blackhawks, the more things change in the lineup the more they stay the same.
“I’ve said this before, I think there’s always a benefit in having some new life and some guys here that didn’t win this,” Bowman said. “They’ve got that hunger, they want to achieve success as well. I think having some new blood is a good thing.”
And Bowman knows, a slightly re-jigged team blooded in by Toews, Kane and Keith will still be a team to be reckoned with come September.