By Jay Zawaski

By Jay Zawaski–

(CBS) The NHL salary cap is difficult to navigate. With the uncertainty of what the next season’s salary cap will be, general managers are often left guessing and hoping for even a few extra (thousand) dollars to make everyone fit.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has found himself in that situation more than anyone else, and with the signing of forward Marcus Kruger to a three-year, $9.25-million extension Tuesday that kicks in next season, he will have to find ways to work around a cap that could stay the same — or even decrease — before next season begins.

Before we really get into the numbers, some have gasped at the 25-year-old Kruger’s new $3.083 cap hit. It’s a high number, but it’s market value for a player of his caliber and exactly what he’d command as a free agent. It’s also worth recalling that he signed a below-market deal this past offseason as a favor to the organization. Anyone who has watched the Hawks closely realizes that Kruger’s much more than an ordinary fourth- line center. He’s the best in the league in that regard, and with a future center lineup of Jonathan Toews, Artem Anisimov, Teuvo Teravainen and Kruger, the Hawks are set at that position for a long time.

Now to the scary numbers.

As it stands today, the Hawks will have $6,116,538 of cap space entering next season. Bowman would have to sign nine players for about $700,000 per player. That’s with Bryan Bickell buried ($900,000 savings), David Rundblad on loan ($100,000 savings) and the $1.25 million of Rob Scuderi’s retained salary.

Those numbers don’t include any of Artemi Panarin’s bonuses or a new deal for Andrew Shaw.

With Panarin, the Hawks are looking at a huge bonus number next season. It could go as high as $2.575 million. That all of which would count as a cap hit next season.

That would mean the Blackhawks would really only have $3,541,538 to sign those nine players ( about $393,500 per player). That’s an impossible situation, so a trade would have to follow. If the Hawks are somehow able to move Bickell’s one-year, $4 million deal, they’d have about $838,000 per player. That’s much more doable.

The team without Bickell and with Ryan Hartmann, Vincent Hinostroza, Tanner Kero, Ville Pokka and a newly signed Viktor Svedberg ($700,000 range), the Hawks would have $2,718,000 of cap space to work with.  Oh, and that’s with the very safe assumption that Shaw’s traded at the draft this summer.

Now, trading Bickell is the top priority this offseason. The Hawks have been trying to move him since last summer. Perhaps his expiring contract makes him more attractive to other GMs.

Bowman has a ton of work to do this offseason. He’s shown that he’s a master of the salary cap before.

Can he do it again? Probably.

Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score and the Blackhawks columnist for CBSChicago.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast with James Neveau of NBCChicago.com that you can listen and subscribe to here. Follow him on Twitter @JayZawaski670.

 

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