Blackhawks’ glory seems short-lived

As the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate
winning their first Stanley Cup championship since 1961 their fans should take
a long, loving look at their current roster because it could look considerably
different next season.

It may be considered bad form to
“rain on the parade” by mentioning the Blackhawks cap problems this summer so
soon after they won the Cup, but it’s been a steady topic of conversation since
mid-season and is much more relevant now that the off-season is here. In
today’s salary cap world, money concerns could become Chicago’s biggest problem in defending their
championship.

The Blackhawks enter the off-season
with $57.598 million committed to 14 players for next season. With the cap
expected to rise to $58.8 million that’ll leave about $1.2 million to fill out
the remainder of the roster. It doesn’t take a salary cap expert to determine
the Blackhawks must pare down their payroll.

Their list of free agents includes
John Madden, star goalie Antti Niemi and Andrew Ladd. It’s highly unlikely they
will be back especially Niemi, who will likely seek a significant raise after
his performance.

In fact goal might see the biggest
change for Chicago
as Cristobal Huet looks ready for a change of scene. Huet lost the starting
goaltender’s job to Niemi and has two more years at $5.625 million per left on
his contract. Given his struggles in goal and that expensive contract, a trade
seems remote but a buyout to free up over $3.7 million next season is possible.

a couple of key roster players
could also depart and bite deeply into the team’s depth. Forwards Patrick Sharp
($3.9 million), Kris Versteeg ($3.083 million) and even playoff hero Dustin
Byfuglien ($3 million) are potential trade candidates.

At least on paper the core of the
team looks safe in franchise players Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan
Keith. Two-way center Dave Bolland should stay put, as should Keith’s defense
partner Brent Seabrook. Forward Marian Hossa just finished the first year of a
contract which expires in 2021 and pays him $5.275 million per season.
Meanwhile checking forwards Tomas Kopecky and Troy Brouwer each earn less than
$1.3 million next season. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks do, but
changes are definitely coming this summer.