The Aftermath In Chicago : An Alternative To The Firesale

What a difference a month makes.  Four weeks ago, the Blackhawks were the most stacked team in the league, boasting elite talent in every position, and every role.  Now, they have lost toughness from the bottom half of the roster in the form of Ben Eager and Adam Burrish.  They’ve lost hard-nosed warriors and checking line heroes in John Madden and Andrew Ladd.  They lost top six scoring in Kris Versteeg, and one of the better role-players in the West in Dustin Byfuglien.  They even lost depth in the form of Colin Fraser, and Brent Sopel.  And yet still, there is more loss to come.

The Hawks have a cap of approximately 55.24 million thanks to an enormous 4.1 million and change cap penalty due to the bonuses issued to the likes of Toews, Kane and Keith. They have already exceeded that cap by a million dollars, despite all the losses, and they are still three forwards, two defensemen, and a goalie short of icing a full a roster. Something has got to give, but GM Stan Bowman says it won’t be Patrick Sharp. Fair enough, but the only other significant salaries that can be removed from the lineup, are Cristobal Huet (5.625 million), and Brian Campbell (7.14 million). The problem is that no one wants Huet due to his poor play and enormous salary, and Campbell’s contract is too long, and immoveable to be worth the risk, even though he is a good player.

Even if the Hawks do what is probably inevitable at this point, and move Cristobal Huet to the minors, or a European team, thereby wiping his cap hit from the roster, the team would still have just 4.6 million dollars to fill in a staggering 7 roster spots, One of these spots would have to be Cup winning goalie Antti Niemi, who is sure to command somwhere between 2 and 3 million dollars. So even after all the moves, the team is still in such a bind, that it’s almost unbelievable. That said, the issue here is not how rough the situation is in Chicago, but rather, how it was allowed to become so rough.

Did Stan Bowman really not see that even after moving all the bodies he moved, that he woudl still have cap problems? Everything he’s done seems extremely short-sighted. Sure, he took back good picks, and nice prospects for all that he gave away, but the team still is not even close to cap compliant. Frankly, it is shocking that he chose the course of action he did. It seems that other avenues were potentially open, and yet Bowman was hasty, and decided to try and get max value on the players that brought him a Cup, rather than search for ways to be rid of the players that actually hindered his cap. Even if all the replacements come in, and perform well, in a very short time, the team will find themselves once again handcuffed by Brian Campbell’s albatross contract.

Just throwing it out there, but was Campbell really that immovable, or is the NHL’s new obsession with all things draft to blame for Chicago’s current woes? Campbell has a NTC that allows him to select 8 teams he will agree to move to should he be asked. Had Bowman gone to Campbell and requested that list, it is my opinion that a suitor could have been found, were Bowman willing to include compensation. Imagine Bowman sending an email to the managers of those 8 teams that said the following: “Brian Campbell is available, and he has selected your teams as potential destinations for his NTC waive. The Blackhawks are willing to compensate whoever take him, with a 1st round pick in 2010, a 1st round pick in 2011, Kyle Beach – our top prospect, Akim Aliu, and the rights to RFA Ben Eager.” Had he done this, is there any chance at all that not one of those teams would have caved to the temptation of such an enormous package? Most of the league perceives draft picks to be worth solid gold.

But of course, this was not done, because GM Stan Bowman was too afraid to move picks (probably because he himself perceives draft picks as solid gold). Such a move would have been bold, and somewhat unheard of, and certainly against the grain of contemporary GM thinking. In the end though, coupled with the Huet burial, which is inevitable anyways, the Blackhawks would have looked like this, had Bowman bothered to explore his options more fully, and turn away from the conventional idea of never moving draft picks:

Dustin Byfuglien (3.0) – Jonathan Toews (6.3) – Marian Hossa (5.275)
Troy Brouwer (1.075) – Patrick Sharp (3.9) – Patrick Kane (6.3)
Kris Versteeg (3.083) – David Bolland (3.375) – Tomas Kopecky (1.2)
Ben Eager (1.25) – Colin Fraser (0.825) – Adam Burrish (1.15)

Duncan Keith (5.5) – Brent Seabrook (3.5)
Nicklas Hjalmarsson (3.5) – Ivan Vishnevskiy (0.822)
Jordan Hendry (0.512) – Johnathan Scott (0.512)

Antti Niemi (2.5) – Corey Crawford (0.8)

This team is cap compliant, and is only missing three players from the Cup run, in Andrew Ladd, Brent Sopel and Brian Campbell. Sure it would have cost the Blackhawks some high end picks, but in hindsight, who would you rather have: the group that won the Stanley Cup in Byfuglien, Eager, Versteeg, Burrish, and so on, or a set of question marks in Morin, Stalberg, Paradis, Hayes, DIDomenico? Is that upgrade worth a package of picks/prospects big enough to move Brian Campbell. I would have thought so.

In my opinion, Stan Bowman screwed up big time. In a year’s time, when Stalberg, Brouwer, Skille, Seabrook and Crawford all need raises, and Campbell’s contract once again forces the team to trade in assets for picks, maybe then he’ll get the message.

10 Responses to The Aftermath In Chicago : An Alternative To The Firesale

  1. reinjosh says:

    Bowman has pretty much ended any chance of a repeat this season for sure but he has added some nice potential long-term pieces. The big thing making all that moot though, as you pointed out, is the next off-season when Seabrook, Stalberg, Brouwer, and Skille need raises. Plus what happens if Niemi is not the answer in net? He certainly wasn't all that great in the final and had only just slightly better than average numbers in the playoffs and season.

    Suppose he falters? What to do with the goalie situation on top of a quickly compounding cap problem? And what if players drop off because of the lack of depth, similar to what happened in Boston last year?

  2. Tachmo says:

    Good article. Makes sense to me. I am not sure why more teams do not entertain that type of philosophy. I wish the Bruins would have done that with Ryder. Before July 1st when teams had lots of cap space I thought Chiarelli should have packaged Ryder and nice prospect or draft pick. I would have thought Toronto would have been a good trading partner on that one. Ryder and Boston's 1st rounder in 2011 for whoever on Tor with a low salary.
    That appears to be one of the only ways to shed salary on high ticket players that are eating up too much cap space. Sweeten the pot with draft picks. Agreed Chicago could take a year off or two at the draft and so could Boston.

  3. cam7777 says:

    In my opinion, this is what the NHL was hoping would happen when they put a salary cap in.  They thought that teams going over the cap would either have to pay a premium of draft picks and prospects to move big expensive unwanted contracts, or lose mid-priced but solid talent for relatively little.  Instead you have Chicago hording draft picks, and yea, Boston continuing to keep theirs as well. 

    Do these teams not realize they have good young rosters on the ice, and could avoid the draft a bit if it meant keeping that group together?  I know it's not popular with you, but the reality is that Chia is probably going to have to look at moving Savard for very little now, and possibly letting Wheeler go as well.  It's possible he buys out Ryder, or tries to lose him on waivers and then re-entry waivers, but you just know he won't bury him.  And deep down, Bruins fans know Ryder isn't bad enough to get buried – it would be bad.  So why not have used those excess draft picks to help yourself out of a bind?

    It's the having your cake and eating it too philosophy we're running with right now.  I think the greed involved with that is bound to come back and bite one of these teams in the ass sooner or later.

  4. albertateams says:

    They should have that 4.1 million in bonus off of the books when they need to resign next years free agents. Still I agree he has really hurt the chance of a repeat. The only thing I can think of is he's hoping that one year of dumping contracts/stocking picks/prospects and potentially the salary cap increasing will allow them to regain form in 2 years and be cup competitive for the next decade. It does given them a ton of question marks short term though. 

  5. nordiques100 says:

    The alternative is for bonuses earned in the playoffs to not count against the cap.

    That's where the Hawks got killed. So many of their guys cashed in on winning the cup and all of that counted against the cap.

    Since the players arent paid for the playoffs and the cap is mainly for regular season management, it makes sense the playoff bonuses are not incurred here.

    i think this way, the bonuses in the playoffs earned go along with the team's success and as the team succeeds further, so do the player in the playoffs. the teams get nice playoff revenue, the players still get their bonuses and the teams do not get killed by the cap hit.

    most of the bonuses seem to go to rookies in entry deals. they can still earn some regular season bonuses too that could count on the cap, but i think the playoff ones should be kept separate.

    the only playoff related bonus would be that given to a player for helping their team to the playoffs. other than that, none of these should count.

  6. Tachmo says:

    I agree that Boston will be forced to make some unfriendly moves. Savard just may get traded for water bottles. Wheeler could be just let go.

    The only thing I can think of is can the league turn down a trade like that? If Boston traded Ryder and 1st for Jon Mitchell? Or Ryder and Colbourne for nothing? I guess not if the Gagne trade went through.

  7. reinjosh says:

    I would think that there would be nothing they could do about it. I can't really see them stopping teams from fixing their own stupidity by giving up valuable assets. It hurts the team almost as much as it helps them.

    I just think that GM's and teams are hesitant. They see deals like the Gomez deal and think they can get that. Then again you have the Errhoff and Gagne deals.

  8. cam7777 says:

    I think there is a rule that you can't trade a draft pick for nothing.  At the 2009 deadline, Burke tried to take some players expiring contracts from the Lightning, and also take a 4th round pick with it for his trouble.  The NHL disallowed that, and forced him to include a player going the other way because of the draft pick.  That is the only preventative measure in place against pure salary dumps though.  As far as I know, there's nothng else to block "expensive player + high draft pick for next to nothing" type trades.

    I think these kind of trades would be in the league's best interest, as it would help struggling teams turn around faster.  You know occassionally these trades would be disastrous, but occassionally they'd help the "dumping" team be competitive enough to win the Cup.  The only real issue, is that rich teams would have an advantage, as obviously the Leafs and Habs and Rangers and so on could take on a guy like Ryder no questions asked if a 1st was coming back in return.  Nashville on the other hand, could not.  Even that should hopefully be recfified in the next CBA.  I really hope they allow money to be traded again.

    Trading money might make even more sense than his trading draft picks business.  Imagine if the Bruins could trade Michael Ryder and 4 million dollars to Nashville for a 7th round pick.  What team at the cap floor wouldn't take Michael Ryder for free?  Same goes for Jeff Finger and several other guys.  The poor teams will get expensive, but slumping player for free, when they likely wouldn't be able to add to their rosters anyways – and the rich teams will move out deadweight to keep their fans happy.

  9. Tachmo says:

    I wouldn't see a problem with trading cash.
    This would be a benefit to Ryder, as he can still play in the NHL, and under this cir*****stance he will get to play for Nashville. It doesn't cost Nashville anything and Boston will get cap relief. It still costs them 4 million but that is the same to them as burying him in the minors.

  10. DannyLeafs says:

    I also like Burke's idea of GM's being able to retain a percentage of player's cap hit. He suggested that a team should be able to use a maximum of 10% of their cap in trades, so that a team could retain a palyers cap hit to make him more desirable. This would be huge. Not only would it allow teams to deal with problem contracts, it could also allow teams to turn negative valued contracts into assets again. Just think if a team like Chicago could make a deal where they trade Campbell, but retain 1.5 million of his cap hit for the duration of his contract, and throw in some cash. Campbell would no longer be that difficult to move, and he would actually get a return for Chicago in the deal, instead of Chicago having to trade picks and prospects to get a team to take him.

    While this does give rich teams a bit of an advantage, it also allows smart GM's of less wealthy teams to fill their roster with good players for a cheaper amount then they could have originally. Also, this just makes more sense economically then having contract buy outs. For a player being bought out, they get 2/3's of their salary paid to them, then they also get the option to be a UFA. Quite often an overpaid players could still get half of his salary on a new deal, effectively making the player more money in the long run. That would basically be obsolete with this rule. A player could be traded, with one third of his cap hit retained, and possibly some cash going to the new team as well. This way, the player still only makes the amount of his contract, and not any more then that. The team trading him only has to pay one third his salary for the duration of his contract, and only take one third the cap hit for half as long as they would in a buy out. The other team gets a bargain on a player, and possibly some cash to help them turn a profit. 

    I really liked this idea, I just think it allows teams that are cap burdened quicker turn arounds, and teams that don't have the money to spend right to the cap could possibly make their team more competitive by getting players who they aren't paying their entire salaries. Not to mention, getting cash in deals can help the franchise turn a profit, and possibly allow them to spend closer to the cap in subsequent years.

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