(CBS) — Friday, when the NHL announced the salary cap for the 2014-15 season would only be $69 million (instead of the expected/assumed $71 million), there was a collective gasp from fans and GMs alike. Teams like the Blackhawks that had expected to be busy in free agency were forced to re-evaluate their off-season plans.
After announcing deals for three key, young players (Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin and Antti Raanta), the Hawks found themselves over the salary cap when Friday night’s NHL Entry Draft began. Yes, the Hawks did have until the season begins to get under the cap, but trying to negotiate with free agents or evaluate trades becomes difficult if they aren’t sure if they’ll be able to make an eventual cap-reducing deal. That’s part of what makes Saturday’s trade of Brandon Bollig (to Calgary for a 3rd-round pick) so important. Now, the Hawks have $770,000 in cap space.
The other important part of the deal is it’s forcing Joel Quenneville’s hand. Stan Bowman has taken away one of Quenneville’s security blankets. Bollig was one of the playoff performers the Hawks’ head coach leaned on, despite a total lack of production. To many observes, myself included, there were far better options watching from the press box while Bollig skated his meaningless 3 to 4 minutes per game. Peter Regin, Joakim Nordstrom and Jeremy Morin were forced to watch instead of contribute.
Now, it’s true that Bollig had probably unfairly became a bit of a whipping boy for Hawks fans. The misdirected anger went at the player, instead of the coach, who insisted on playing him for 82 games and most of the playoffs. Much like the criticism of Michal Handzus, the use of the player, not the player himself, was the problem.
Bollig worked extremely hard in the offseason to make himself a viable NHL player. It will be interesting to see what kind of role he will play in Calgary. The Flames put a value in fighting and physicality. We saw Bollig dial down those elements of his game to stay in the lineup in Chicago. Time will tell if he re-goons, or continues to play a reliable checking, defensive role.
The next handful of days should be quite a roller coaster ride for the Blackhawks. I do expect them to be active in free agency and sign a center. They’ve kicked the tires on Jason Spezza from Ottawa, but the Sens, at this point, are asking too much. They’ve also spoken to free agent Paul Stastny, but unless they move a big contract or two, there’s no way the Hawks can afford his services. Lesser options like free agent Saku Koivu might end up being the solution. While it’s a thousand miles from ideal, he’s a guy who would likely sign a one-year deal for $1 million or $2 million in hopes of winning a title. That doesn’t solve the problem, but if the Hawks aren’t willing to trade some salary, it may be the only option.