Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman had to feel a bit better when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman projected next season’s salary cap to be $73 million Monday.
Bowman’s fear has to be the cap barely moving from its current place at $69 million as some people speculated recently. Even at $73 million, it’s not a perfect situation for Bowman and will still require a couple tough decisions.
The Blackhawks already have $65,788,462 committed to 15 players for the 2015-16 season, according to capgeek.com. The Blackhawks may have to move one or two of those already signed players to put together a full NHL roster next season.
The Blackhawks are expected to allow all of their unrestricted free agents to go after this season due to the lack of cap space. Those free agents include Daniel Carcillo, Michal Rozsival, Johnny Oduya and Brad Richards.
Here’s a breakdown of the Blackhawks’ situation next season:
THE UNTOUCHABLES (These players aren’t going anywhere)
Patrick Kane, forward -- $10.5 million cap hit for 2015-16 -- Kane and Jonathan Toews are the franchise’s cornerstone pieces. They each agreed to eight-year, $84 million in the offseason. They could have probably gotten more if they wanted, too.
Jonathan Toews, forward -- $10.5 million -- See above.
Corey Crawford, goaltender -- $6 million -- The Blackhawks decided Crawford was going to be their goaltender of the future by locking him up after the 2013 Stanley Cup run. The current season is the first of six on his long-term contract. His $6 million cap hit is about the going rate for goaltenders.
Duncan Keith, defenseman -- $5,538,462 -- Keith is the team’s most valuable defenseman. He leads the teams in minutes, plays in all situations and contributes offensively. He’s coming off his second Norris Trophy last season. He may slow down before his contract ends after the 2022-23 season, but he hasn’t shown any signs of it yet.
Niklas Hjalmarsson, defenseman -- $4.1 million -- Hjalmarsson is the team’s best defensive defenseman. It’s his shutdown ability that allows the team’s other defensemen to play more offensive roles. He’s locked up through the 2018-19 season.
THE NEXT TIER (The Blackhawks probably have to move one of these players)
Patrick Sharp, forward -- $5.9 million -- Sharp has plenty left in the tank ability-wise, but this is all about dollar figures. He makes a lot of money and isn’t tied to a long-term contract. Bowman could deal anyone with those two characteristics in order to re-sign Brandon Saad and complete the roster.
Brent Seabrook, defenseman -- $5.8 million -- Again, it’s about the money here. Seabrook will be in the final year of his contract next season. The concern is whether the Blackhawks would have enough experienced defensemen without Seabrook in the lineup.
Marian Hossa, forward -- $5.275 million -- Hossa likely isn’t going anywhere with him being signed through the 2020-21 season, but the Blackhawks would probably listen if someone called about him. He is still playing at a high level at 35.
Bryan Bickell, forward -- $4 million -- Bickell earned his contract by excelling in the 2013 playoffs, but his regular-season play hasn’t exactly been worth top-6 money. His contract could be attractive if the Blackhawks packaged him with the right prospect.
VALUE PLAYERS (These players are good money and likely won’t be moved)
Kris Versteeg, forward -- $2.2 million -- What a difference a season makes. Plenty of people wanted Versteeg gone in the offseason -- and they had legit reasons -- but Versteeg returned a different player this season. At $2.2 million -- the Florida Panthers are also paying him $2.2 million -- he’s certainly worth the money now.
Andrew Shaw, forward -- $2 million -- Shaw has given the Blackhawks a stable third-line center the last three seasons. It’ll be interesting to see what he demands after the 2015-16 season. He’ll be a restricted free agent again then.
Ben Smith, forward -- $1.5 million -- Smith can play every forward position and can fit into top-6 role or a bottom-6 one. He’s developed into a top penalty killer. He’s cheap and versatile.
Jeremy Morin, forward -- $800,000 -- The Blackhawks could easily trade Morin before next season, but his salary and ability are ideal for next season’s team. He’s affordable and has a lot of potential. Of course, he’s never really won over Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.
Antti Raanta, goaltender -- $750,000 -- Raanta dealt with some inconsistencies last year, but he’s been better this year. Considering the Blackhawks paid Ray Emery $1.15 million to backup Crawford in 2013 and Nikolai Khabibulin $1.7 million last season, Raanta is very affordable.
CHEAP YOUTH (These young players are on entry-level deals and could fill roles)
Trevor van Riemsdyk, defenseman -- $925,000 -- Van Riemsdyk was the surprise of this season. He’s expected to be in the Blackhawks’ long-term plans.
Teuvo Teravainen, forward -- $894,164 -- Teravainen may not get his chance this season, but he’s still expected to the Blackhawks’ second-line center of the future. He should be in the top-6 next season.
Mark McNeill, forward -- $863,333 -- McNeill is a power forward and started to emerge before suffering a recent injury. He’s yet to appear in an NHL game, but he could probably fill a top-9 role next season.
Phillip Danault, forward -- $863,333 – Danault got his first NHL taste earlier this season. He’s also taken a step in his development. He could play a third or fourth-line center role down the line. He’s often been compared to Marcus Kruger.
Stephen Johns, defenseman -- $800,000 -- Johns is another defenseman the Blackhawks have high hopes for down the road. He should be ready come next season.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (The Blackhawks will likely look to re-sign these players)
Brandon Saad, forward – Bowman’s priority has to be signing Saad in the offseason. Saad could easily ask what Bickell got in his last contract or even closer to $5 million. Saad still has some inconsistencies, but he’s easily a top-6 forward when he’s on his game. Plus, he’ll still only be 22 years old when next season comes around.
Marcus Kruger, forward: Kruger has been the ultimate role player for the Blackhawks the past four seasons. He plays a defensive role on the fourth line and has been one of the league’s premier penalty killers. He’s still only 24 years old. He has a current cap hit of $1.325 million. He will probably ask for $2 million or more.
Joakim Nordstrom, forward: Nordstrom has shown again this season he’s fully capable of playing in the NHL. He could be slotted into a fourth-line wing role next season. He shouldn’t cost the Blackhawks too much.
David Rundblad, defenseman: The Blackhawks could cut ties with Rundblad, but Bowman went out of his way to trade a second-round pick for him and has always talked him up. He wouldn’t be too costly if they re-signed him. He does at some point need to earn Quenneville’s trust.
Adam Clendening, defenseman: Clendening played in his first NHL games earlier this season. He is one of a handful of defenseman prospects who could be in position to have a permanent NHL spot next year.
Klas Dahlbeck, defenseman: Dahlbeck is getting his NHL chance right now. He made his NHL debut Saturday. He also could be one of the young defensemen in the NHL next season. He also shouldn’t cost the Blackhawks too much.
Scott Darling, goaltender: Darling is making a case to the Blackhawks’ No. 2 goaltender. He’s a hometown kid who loves playing for the Blackhawks. It’ll be interesting to see what happens because Raanta is signed through next season.