By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) On Wednesday, the Chicago Blackhawks announced new contracts for their two top stars, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who signed identical 8-year, $84 million deals. The contracts, which will take effect at the start of the 2015-’16 season, carry cap hits of $10.5 million each. The deals make Kane and Toews the highest cap hits in the league, and while fair, they also create another salary cap headache for general manager Stan Bowman.
When the 2010 season ended, Bowman found himself in what could only be described as cap hell. As a result, the Blackhawks were forced to trade Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Adam Burish, Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Colin Fraser and Brent Sopel.
Now, Bowman will have to manage another roster purge. It won’t be as severe as 2010’s, but some big names have to move before to 2015-’16 seasons begins.
Before we get to that, Blackhawks fans should be preparing for a name to move this summer as well. As it stands right now, Chicago is $2.2 million over the salary cap for 2014-’15, and teams have until opening day to get under the hard cap of $69 million. The most likely candidates to move this summer are defensemen Johnny Oduya ($3.375 million) or Nick Leddy ($2.7 million). Both of those players have expiring contracts.
If Bowman wants to get ahead of the 2015-’16 issues, moving Patrick Sharp (owed $5.9 million annually through 2016-’17) or Bryan Bickell ($4 million annually through 2016-’17) would solve the bigger problem. With Toews and Kane’s new contracts, the Blackhawks have $3,242,372 in cap space for 2015-’16. That doesn’t include new deals for Brandon Saad, Oduya, Michal Rozsival, David Rundblad, Leddy, Peter Regin or Marcus Kruger, all of who have expiring contracts after this upcoming season. It’s important to note that the cap is expected to rise to as high as $75 million next season, but those numbers can’t be assumed.
Saad must — and will — be signed. The Blackhawks pegged him as “untouchable” at the trade deadline and draft. Bowman will find a way to make sure Saad is in Chicago long term. A shorter-term “bridge deal” would seem logical, but if Saad progresses the way many expect him to progress, what kind of money will he be seeking in three or four years? It’s a gamble that Bowman may be forced to take.
It’s nearly impossible to predict what’s going to happen with this roster. The Blackhawks play things so tight to the vest, they’re almost impossible to read. This is make-or-break time for Bowman. His penchant for paying an extra $200,000 or $500,000 on some deals (for Corey Crawford, Bickell, Rozsival) has come back to bite him in the past, but he’s off to a good start this summer, signing key role players for market or slightly below market value and Brad Richards for $2 million.
Whatever happens, the 2015-’16 Blackhawks are going to look very different than the 2014-’15 Blackhawks. Chicago needs some of its prospects to step up and deliver if it wants to maintain the elite level Blackhawks fans have come to expect.
Jay Zawaski covers the Blackhawks for CBSChicago.com and 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.