The issue is one that has been nagging at the Chicago Blackhawks since early in the 2013-14 season.
Despite a boatload of talented players and one of the most gifted rosters in the league, the Blackhawks had a problem.
They had one of the top No. 1 centers in the league in Jonathan Toews, but there was a huge drop-off at the position after the perennial All-Star candidate.
The Blackhawks have needed a No. 2 center for a long time, and their inability to put a strong second-line center on the ice may have been one of the key reasons why they were eliminated in overtime of the seventh game against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final.
While the move appears to be a good one for the Blackhawks both short- and long-term, there is yet another issue the Blackhawks will have to address: a salary-cap issue.
It is just the beginning of the free-agency season. The Blackhawks have made one move, and they are more than $2.2 million over the $69 million salary cap for the 2014-15 season.
That means Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman will have to get rid of salary before the start of the season. In the NHL, you can't go over the salary cap during the season.
There are no exceptions.
Therefore, at least one veteran player is going to have to go. If Bowman wants to make any more major additions to the roster, then he will have to make even more moves.
That seems unlikely, but that doesn't mean the Blackhawks are not going to be busy in the offseason. Toews and Patrick Kane are both scheduled to be free agents at the end of the 2014-15 season, and the Blackhawks would like to get both of their superstars signed before the start of the upcoming season.
Toews and Kane have expressed their desire to remain with the Blackhawks on a long-term basis, and both would like to get their business done sooner rather than later.
Both are going to require contracts that are substantially more than the $6.3 million each is scheduled to be paid this season. According to TSN.ca, both players are seeking deals of $12 million per year.
This matter will have ramifications for 2015-16, but Bowman must address his current salary-cap issue in the short term.
He is going to have to pare money from the team's payroll, so a veteran player is almost certainly going to have to depart.
Kris Versteeg and Michal Rozsival find themselves as the likeliest targets.
Both players are scheduled to earn $2.2 million in 2015-16, and both players are coming off ordinary years for the Blackhawks.
Rozsival seemed slow on too many occasions, while Versteeg (10 goals, 9.1 shooting percentage) just couldn't come through with key goals—even when he appeared to have excellent opportunities to score. He would shoot high, wide or directly into the goalie's pads.
That's not a good thing when you play for a team with salary-cap concerns.
Bowman has a decision to make, and from this corner, it does not look like a tough one. He can get rid of Rozsival or Versteeg, and the Blackhawks would still appear to be a dynamic and powerful team.
However, if he had decided to go with a slicker and younger center than Richards, it would have cost the Blackhawks a lot more than $2 million.
A $5-6 million player might have forced Bowman to consider moving star forward Patrick Sharp or defenseman Johnny Oduya.
The eventual signing of Toews and Kane will bring the cap issues back to the surface. For now, the Richards signing looks like a good one because it won't cost that much in terms of cash or term, and the Blackhawks will not have to part with a truly valuable piece of their roster.
Salary-cap and contract information courtesy of CapGeek.
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