Chicago Blackhawks' Best Options to Get Under the Salary Cap for 2014-15

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2014

Chicago Blackhawks' Best Options to Get Under the Salary Cap for 2014-15

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    The Chicago Blackhawks have to come up with a salary-cap game plan. They need both a short-term plan and a long-term plan.

    The Blackhawks are a bit more than $2.2 million over the $69 million salary cap the NHL has imposed for the 2014-15 season. There is no wiggle room in the NHL. The Blackhawks must pare their $71.216 million payroll by the time the team opens the season in October.

    The Blackhawks are spending more on their payroll than any team in the league other than the Philadelphia Flyers (as of Aug. 16). General manager Stan Bowman has to execute an action plan to get the Blackhawks below the $69 million mark by the Oct. 9 opener at Dallas.

    Bowman will have even more to worry about prior to the 2015-16 season. The Blackhawks signed superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to long-term contracts this summer that will pay each player $10.5 million per season.

    The Blackhawks are currently committed to a salary-cap payroll of $65.8 million in 2015-16, and while the salary cap figures to go up, the Blackhawks will have eight free agents (restricted and unrestricted) that they will have to re-sign, trade or walk away from.

    In this piece, we will look at Bowman's options to get the Blackhawks under the cap for the 2014-15 season.

    (All salary cap and contract information courtesy of CapGeek.com.)

Patrick Sharp

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    2013-14 stats: 34 goals, 44 assists, 78 points, 10 power-play goals, plus-13 rating

    2014-15 salary: $5.9 million

    Analysis: Patrick Sharp's agent, Rick Curran, denied that his client was going to be on the move earlier this summer in a column written by Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun, but Sharp's name popped up in trade rumors earlier this summer.

    Sharp is clearly a core member of the Blackhawks and is one of the team's best offensive players. He has a wicked wrist shot, he will go to the dirty areas in front of the net or in the corners, and he is popular with his teammates.

    However, Sharp is 32 years old, and even though he is still a dangerous scorer, it is often better to trade a player one year too early instead of one year too late. The Blackhawks could trade Sharp for a package of draft picks and prospects that would lighten the salary cap considerably.

    Trading Sharp and his $5.9 million salary would not only get the Blackhawks under the cap, it would give them some additional wiggle room to make additions to the roster.

    Here's the problem: The Blackhawks want to make one more run at the Stanley Cup, and Sharp's goal-scoring ability makes them a better team. They would need to find another goal scorer to take his place if they got rid of him.

    Bottom line: While Bowman would gain salary-cap room by trading Sharp, it would make the team weaker. A Sharp trade is unlikely given the team's status as Stanley Cup contender.

Niklas Hjalmarsson

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    2013-14 stats: Four goals, 22 assists, 26 points, one shorthanded goal, plus-11 rating

    2014-15 salary: $4.1 million

    Analysis: There is little doubt that Niklas Hjalmarsson is a key member of the Blackhawks. He is a second-pair defenseman who can carry the puck, block shots and play a physical game when Joel Quenneville asks him to assert himself.

    Hjalmarsson and partner Johnny Oduya may not have the offensive capabilities of fellow defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but they are proficient defensively and are regularly on the ice against the opponents' top offensive line.

    Hjalmarssson, 27, has been a solid contributor for the last five seasons, and he is in the prime of his career. He's not a superstar, but his presence makes the Blackhawks a better team.

    Bottom line: Bowman will have to give solid consideration to the idea of trading Hjalmarsson. He is a proficient player who figures to makes a steady contribution for the foreseeable future. However, he's not a superstar, and the Blackhawks would still be contenders without him. Trading him might sting, but it would rescue the team from its salary-cap situation.

Bryan Bickell

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    2013-14 stats: 11 goals, four assists, 15 points, two game-winning goals, minus-six rating

    2014-15 salary: $4 million

    Analysis: Bryan Bickell is perhaps the biggest enigma on the Blackhawks roster. For much of the season, Bickell appears to be a black hole because his regular-season production is laughable.

    Bickell, at 6'4" and 233 pounds, has the frame to be the kind of player for the Blackhawks that Milan Lucic is for the Bruins. While he may not skate as well as Lucic, he has the size and temperament to assert himself.

    Bickell's lack of production has been frustrating to head coach Joel Quenneville, and he has been benched before. It would seem obvious that the Blackhawks could cut or trade him and not miss him a bit.

    However, Bickell has been at his best in the postseason. He scored nine goals and eight assists during the Blackhawks' 2013 Stanley Cup run. His tying goal in Game 6 against the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final set the stage for the Stanley Cup-winning goal that followed 17 seconds later.

    Bickell followed up that playoff performance with another strong showing in the 2014 postseason. He scored seven goals and three assists and was a solid presence in front of the net.

    Bottom line: Bickell's lack of finish in the regular season is a big problem for the Blackhawks. Logically, it makes little sense to have him around any longer given his big salary-cap number. However, his playoff production makes it difficult for Bowman to pull the trigger.

Johnny Oduya

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    2013-14 stats: Three goals, 13 assists, 16 points, plus-11 rating

    2014-15 salary: $3.375 million

    Analysis: Johnny Oduya is a dependable defenseman who played a key role in the Blackhawks' 2013 Stanley Cup run.

    While he is not going to contribute much on the offensive end, he scored a key goal in Game 1 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against Boston that sent that game into overtime. The Blackhawks would eventually win that game in triple overtime, and it provided one of the keys to victory in that series.

    Oduya makes his living as a strong defensive player who will block shots, take the puck away from opponents and play a physical game when it is needed.

    Oduya, 32, has been playing in the NHL since 2006-07, and it seems likely that he has peaked. He may be able to maintain his level of play, but he's at the age where he could slow down.

    Bottom line: Oduya is heady, smart and a solid contributor, but this is his last year under contract and another team may value his services and present the Blackhawks with a decent offer. The Blackhawks could overcome his loss and still be productive.

Kris Versteeg

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    2013-14 stats (with Blackhawks): 10 goals, 19 assists, 29 points, plus-nine rating

    2014-15 salary: $2.2 million

    Analysis: The Blackhawks reacquired Kris Versteeg early last season in a trade with the Florida Panthers with the hope that he would provide some additional offense due to his quickness and his accurate, hard shot.

    While they got some scoring from Versteeg, it was not enough, and he was a disappointment. Versteeg, 28, will have to earn a job with the team in training camp, and it will not be an easy task.

    Bottom line: While Versteeg scored 23 goals in 2011-12, he does not appear to be the same kind of scorer at this point in his career. If Bowman could find a trading partner who was willing to take Versteeg off his hands, it would appear to be a solid deal for the Blackhawks. Trading Versteeg would get the Blackhawks close to the salary cap, but it would not put them under. At least one additional move would have to be made.