It’s been a frequent topic in this space, and it recently caught the attention of CT at Hockeenight: the Blackhawks’ salary cap situation. In response to recent pieces by Tim Sassone and Barry Rozner (which were also critiqued in this space), Hockeenight had this to say:
I’m throwing my lot in with the guys over at Fifth Feather. Barring an unbelievable trade offer, the Hawks should hold on to Havlat and Khabibulin. Ride them as far as they can take you in the playoffs, and wish them well in 2009-2010.
Then, a day later, Barry Rozner, apparently a devout reader of our friends at Hockeenight, penned this gem for the Daily Herald:
You look at the way the rest of the NHL season is shaping up and it’s pretty obvious that Detroit is going to go out and get a goaltender. So, again, if you’re the Blackhawks, you have to decide what you’re going to do about Nikolai Khabibulin. If you understand you’re not going to win the Stanley Cup, and you’re not going to re-sign him, why not trade with the Red Wings and steal a handful of good, young players?
As Mr. Rozner never mentions the two most important words in the NHL – “salary” and “cap” – it’s clear he’s out of his element.
So, CT, welcome. It’s good to have you. But, while Tim Sassone ponders Dale Tallon’s next move and Barry Rozner – in his increasingly Jay Marriotti-esque infinite wisdom – prods the ‘Hawk General Manager “to get something for Khabibulin and Havlat before the deadline,” I have a message for them both: Tallon will have no choice. Aside from the fact no contender has any significant current cap space to take on such comparatively massive contracts, one has to wonder about the future salary cap ramifications of any such deal. But, let me warn you: they ain’t pretty.
Let’s consider a Martin Havlat deal, for example. If the ‘Hawks were to decide, ‘Hey, this guy who’s been our best player for the past month – let’s get rid of him,’ the package in return might be something resembling the Atlanta-Pittsburgh Marian Hossa deal from last March – a pick, a prospect and a player – including, presumably, young players who can join this young Blackhawks nucleus for years to come, right? Other than the assumption that, given the current salary cap climate, teams will be willing to part with such players, there’s just one other small problem left: fitting this supposed stable of young, skilled, comparatively highly paid players into the future cap will be no easier than managing the ’08-’09 cap. (Remember: high picks and good prospects often have high cap numbers.) And, if you don’t believe me, take it from The Hockey News’ Ryan Dixon, who likely doesn’t make his living critiquing the McCaskeys:
With Brian Campbell already raking in about $7.1 million per season, how much money are the Hawks going to have left under what’s sure to be a falling cap in 2010-11 when they have to fork out huge dough for their top two forwards (Toews and Kane)? Those three players plus Cristobal Huet will essentially eat up half of Chicago’s cap space. That puts a lot of pressure on management to provide the supporting cast at a reasonable cost.
So, here’s the harsh truth, Mr. Rozner: the ‘Hawks cannot trade Havlat or Khabibulin; the cap hit would just be too much. Consider this: The current cap is something like $57 million, including bonus cushions and such, and the ‘Hawks are just about at that figure for salary. As the cap will likely come down for the ’10-’11 season, let’s put it at $55 million for the sake of argument. With Toews and Kane owed new paper and Campbell and Huet signed to long-term deals, this will likely put the ‘Hawks at about $26 million in that season – for just four players. Toss in Keith, who’s also owed new paper for the ’10-’11 season, and the ‘Hawks are at $31 or $32 million already, if not more. That leaves something around $23 million to pay about 17 other players, including the $12 million owed Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp, which only leaves less than $1 million average for the rest of the group – if the cap is as high as $55 million, which may also be a dreamy figure. Finally, add Kyle Beach’s cap hit, and the ‘Hawks are closer to salary cap “code red” than an acquisition of more players owed significant money for ’10-’11.
So, while I appreciate Mr. Rozner’s effort, one thing is clear: the cap space Havlat and Khabibulin represent is just too valuable – too necessary – to give away, and taking on future salary will just be plain prohibitive. Trading an aging veteran for youthful talent may be a winning plan in Major League Baseball, but it’s a loser in the NHL’s salary cap era. It just won’t work.
Take a look around, Mr. Rozner. With luck, you’re already looking at your 2010-2011 Chicago Blackhawks. Let’s just not make this more difficult than it needs to be. Stick to baseball and football.
Uh oh … I think I hear the Chicago Bears’ front office quarreling! Go, Barry, go!