The Chicago Blackhawks became the first team to win two championships in the salary-cap era when they staged a rousing comeback and defeated the Boston Bruins in the sixth game of the Stanley Cup Final to hoist the treasured chalice.
Can they win back-to-back titles and three in a five-season span?
They won their first title in 2010, but salary-cap issues forced general manager Stan Bowman to dismantle that squad so the Blackhawks would be cap compliant. But instead of crying in his beer about not being able to keep his team together, Bowman went about the business of retooling in a responsible manner.
The salary cap will be sharply reduced from $70.2 million to $64.3 million next season. The Blackhawks, like all teams, have cap issues to address. However, they are nowhere near as serious as they were after their 2010 Stanley Cup run.
Start off with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. The Blackhawks' three best forwards are all under contract for multiple seasons.
Kane and Toews both earn $6.3 million per year and are signed through the end of the 2014-15 season, according to CapGeek.com. Sharp will be wearing his Blackhawks uniform for another four seasons and earning $5.9 million each year.
On the blue line, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith have long-term deals, while Johnny Oduya has two years left on his contract. However, unsung hero Niklas Hjalmarsson has just one season left on his deal, and the Blackhawks may need to address the situation.
Veteran Marian Hossa, 34, has eight years remaining on a contract that pays him $5.275 million per season. Hossa will almost certainly be in a Blackhawks uniform next year, but he appears to be a potential compliance buyout in the future.
The Blackhawks will certainly need to find some room to sign several of their role players. They currently have a little more than $2 million to spend under the cap, and there are a lot of questions they need to address.
The biggest surrounds power forward Bryan Bickell, who scored nine goals during the playoffs, including the game-tying goal in the Stanley Cup Final clincher against the Bruins.
Bickell will be a free agent this summer after earning $540,000 this season. He is likely to be one of the more popular free agents after raising his profile dramatically with his notable Stanley Cup performance.
Viktor Stalberg and Michal Handzus will both be free agents this summer. The Blackhawks are not likely to pursue either one.
While goalie Corey Crawford is signed for one more year, the team may want to address his contract situation. Crawford is scheduled to earn $2.66 million in 2013-14, which is considerably lower than top goalies like Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick. While he might not be as good as those two, he can claim a Stanley Cup which will increase his negotiating power.
A changing roster is not the only issue Chicago will face in 2013-14. It has become increasingly tough to repeat as champions in the NHL, as no team has accomplished that feat since the Detroit Red Wings did it in 1997 and '98.
It will almost certainly be even harder this year. The shortened season started and ended late. The Blackhawks will have about two months of rest before they report to training camp in September. That will barely give their bumps and bruises, let alone the serious injuries, a chance to heal
They also emptied the tank on an every-night basis for head coach Joel Quenneville. How much will they have left to give next year, especially in the first half of the season?
These are issues that will impact their ability to repeat. One thing that works in their favor is the overwhelming talent on their roster. The Blackhawks are not a happenstance champion.
They are a dominating winner with remarkable players. That will give them a chance to repeat, but the 29 other teams in the NHL will have the Blackhawks in their sights each night.
That last factor may be the biggest obstacle of all.
(All salary figures are courtesy of CapGeek.com.)
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