The Chicago Blackhawks Cap Crunch: A Product of Their System

The Chicago Blackhawks are going to make a trade in the next few days to get under the salary cap of $69 million. Capgeek shows that they will need to shed at least $2,216,795 before the first game of the year. It’s assumed that a combination of Nick Leddy, Johnny Oduya, or Kris Versteeg will be the package that gets the Hawks under the cap. As a team with elite talent littered throughout the lineup, salary cap issues are always going to be present. Chicago is in a place where they are possibly going to have to move a young player with plenty of potential, Leddy, instead of moving the player(s) that don’t fit in the system as well. The organization only has themselves to blame as they have taken several steps in the last few years that have led to the current situation.

The recent contracts to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews each carry cap hits of $10.5 million over the next eight seasons after this one according to CapGeek.com. While these cap hits are currently the highest in the NHL, there is no real issue with these contracts. You could argue that Kane is being paid too much because the two aren’t equal, but Kane is still worth a sizeable cap hit.

This organization has shown that it is capable of locking up the elite talent on this team while supplementing the bottom of the lineup with cheap, well-rounded players. It’s the players in between that are really causing the cap issues the team is currently facing.

Last summer, Chicago signed left winger and playoff stud* Bryan Bickell to a 4 year contract with an annual average value of $4 million. While Bickell had a great playoffs on the way to winning the Stanley Cup, it’s hard to justify that contract for a player who has never put up more than 33 points in a season. Even if we excuse this blunder of a contract (I mean, Bickell is still a good third line option), there is one large albatross around the neck of this organization.

Corey Crawford.

Crawford has won a cup and has proven to be a good starting goalie on one of the most talented teams in the league. The issue isn’t with Crawford’s ability. It’s with his 6 year, $36 million contract. Crawford will have the sixth highest goaltender cap hit among in the NHL in the 2014-15 season. This is a problem for a goalie who is quite clearly not a top 10 netminder in the league.

Among goalies who have faced 3,000 shots since the 2010-11 season, he ranks a mediocre 19th out of 29 goalies in 5on5 save percentage at .929. To be fair, the difference between “top end” and “adequate” isn’t very much. Tuuka Rask, the number one goalie in this category has a 5on5 save percentage of .939. That’s a difference of 10 goals on 1000 shots, or less than two wins (Eric Tulsky found that 6 goals equates to one win).

A recent post on Fear the Fin pointed out that the difference between top-end goaltenders and league average is relatively small. In fact, Crawford is a little less than one win better than the average starting goaltender.

This is not an indictment of Corey Crawford or Bryan Bickell. This is an indictment of the Chicago Blackhawks front office. Bad contracts do not equal bad players, but they do equate to bad value. Chicago can’t afford to take on contract of poor value with their current circumstance.

We can’t blame players like Bickell and Crawford for signing these large contracts. With the exception of wealthy veterans like Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards, players are going to sign the biggest deal they can get. No, the blame must be placed on the front office. At the end of the day, they are the ones who are handing out these contracts. And now they are paying the price.

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