Much to the dismay of Hawks fans, the Los Angeles Kings ended the NHL season as they won their second Stanley Cup in three years. While some in the media have pondered if the Kings are a dynasty, I have turned my attention towards the Hawks’ offseason. There are many reasons to keep updated on the Hawks with the NHL Draft quickly approaching. A rising cap, restricted free agents to sign, Toews and Kane deals looming, NHL free agency, and the NHL Draft could all result in slight shake-ups in the Hawks lineup.
The salary cap is projected to rise $12 million over the next two seasons. This is great news for the Kane and Toews extensions that will be in effect starting in the 2015-16 season. The unknown in all of this is how much the cap will rise for next season. A new projection for next year has the cap at just over $70 million. A previous estimate had the cap at around just $68 million, a considerable drop when looking at the Blackhawks’ cap situation this offseason. According to capgeek.com, Chicago has just over $66 million committed to 19 players on the NHL roster. This leaves just $1.5 million left for four players. That’s $392,000 per open roster spot, below the league minimum salary of $550,000. Compare that to a cap of $70.6 million, a projection made by James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail. Chicago would then have about $4 million in cap space leaving about $1 million per open roster spot. While the latter estimate provides the Hawks with a little room to breathe, it has not stopped speculation that some players may be traded in the offseason.
Moves may need to happen in order to bring back all of the current restricted free agents. Jeremy Morin, Ben Smith, and Antti Raanta are the only restricted free agents this offseason, and GM Stan Bowman has already said he expects all three to be back next year. While none of them will command an expensive contract, the Hawks may need more than the available cap space to fill the remaining roster spots. Don’t be surprised to see a player from Rockford fill the gap. The first option will be Teuvo Teravainen, Chicago’s top prospect and future second-line center. It will be interesting to see if Quenneville gives Teravainen a fair shot at the job. Quenneville’s decision to go with Handzus and Brookbank over Morin and Regin in the playoffs backed up the belief that he tends to favor veteran consistency (however ineffective) over youthful skill and variability. It may be time for Quenneville to change his ways after L.A.’s younger players like Muzzin, Toffoli, and Pearson helped the Kings get past Chicago this year.
Even if the Hawks don’t need to make trades to find players to fill open roles, they may need to move around some players to free up extra cap space. The cool thing these days is to speculate whether the Hawks will trade Sharp or Seabrook. While speculating about trades can be fun, there’s really no reason to believe either of these players will be moved. Both have strong possession stats and reasonable cap hits compared to current day contracts. Sharp is signed through the 2018 season with a cap hit of $5.9 million. Seabrook, on the other hand, has a cap hit of $5.8 million for two more seasons. The Hawks will be hard pressed to find viable replacements for cap hits similar or lower than what Sharp and Seabrook currently have. The even cooler thing is to speculate if the Hawks will bring in a center like Ryan Kesler or Jason Spezza to fill the 2C void until Teravainen is ready. Bowman is not one to make big moves in the offseason, especially via the trade route. If anyone is going to be moved, it will probably be someone like like Johnny Oduya (1 year remaining with a $3.5 million cap hit) or Michal Rozsival (1 year remaining with a $2.2 million cap hit) for picks, prospects, or a cheaper veteran to fill the 7th defenseman role. Both players are relatively cheap, but, with only one year remaining on their contracts, Bowman and the Hawks may try to squeeze the current roster under the cap for one more year. After all, 2015-16 is the real challenge. Toews and Kane will have extensions already signed, but Kruger, Saad, Nordstrom, Leddy, and Rundlad will all be up for extensions as well during the offseason. Bowman has shown he knows how to keep key players in the organization, but don’t expect all of those players to be back (although don’t be afraid to purchase that Saad sweater you have been eyeing).
Chicago has a summer of decisions ahead, but most of the evidence points to it being an easy one compared to past seasons. Activity around the league will heat up with the upcoming draft on June 27 and free agency opening on July 1st. Keep your eye out for Chicago to make some minor moves, but don’t expect anything that will grab headlines. If you take anything from this, it should be that the Hawks don’t need to do anything to improve their team. They are a top possession team and will compete for the Cup for years to come. Adding Teravainen and locking up Toews, Kane, and Saad long-term has the potential to separate them even further from the rest of the NHL. Just because the Hawks missed out on the Cup this year does not mean we can’t be fully excited about what’s to come in the future.