'Hawks faced with cap issues

Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews kisses the Stanley Cup while surrounded by photographers....

Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews kisses the Stanley Cup while surrounded by photographers. (REUTERS/Gary Hershorn)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA — Yesterday it was the Cup, tomorrow it will be the Cap for the euphoric champion, Chicago Blackhawks.

The challenge is that extreme for the Stanley Cup winners, with serious challenges financial and otherwise to consider with extreme decisions that need to be made quickly.

Depending on who is doing the math, the Blackhawks are already close to $10 million over next year’s salary-cap figure of around $59 million US. And that is issue No. 1 for management to deal with.

At first glance, it’s easy to say this is a Blackhawks team that is bound to win more than one Cup. The truth is, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita thought the same back in 1961, and there was no salary problems at that time at all.

Somehow, the Hawks management team, led by general manager, Stan Bowman, must find a way to reduce their spending, while hanging on to the majority of their mainstream players.

One way the Blackhawks can rid themselves of some cap woes is by burying backup goalie Cristobal Huet in the minors. Huet earns more than $5 million a year: What the Hawks have to consider now is how much money they are willing to throw away in order to keep winning.

At the same time, they have to sign the restricted free-agent goalie, Antti Niemi. That might have been cheap a few months ago.

Niemi’s price, after going through the playoffs with a 16-6 won-loss record, and while at times he looked shaky, just as he did in Game 6 in Philadelphia, he had a way of coming up big when it mattered most. He’ll be somewhere in the $2-3 million mark next season.

The Hawks also have to sign another valuable restricted free agent, Niklas Hjalmarsson. The surprising Hjalmarsson developed into Chicago’s third-most trustworthy defenceman in the playoffs. He’s only 23: He’s the type of player that isn’t easily replaced and could be a target for another team throwing an offer sheet at him.

So the Hawks payroll increases with the contracts of Niemi and Hjalmarsson, and then would get some deduction if Bowman can convince ownership to swallow hard on Huet’s five million.

The real question for the Blackhawks is at centre, where their depth was so strong throughout the playoffs, but even more evident in the final two games after coach Joel Quenneville shuffled his regular lines.

Captain Jonathan Toews, whose salary will go from $850,000 to $6.5 million next season, isn’t going anywhere.

Neither is Dave Bolland, Don Cherry’s favourite, who earns $3.37 million a year.

That puts Patrick Sharp, one of the best Hawks in the playoffs, one of their leaders and most mature players, in play. He earns $4 million a year. It’s good value for his talents.

Problem is, the Blackhawks have to find a place to cut and he may be that place.

Ideally, they would love to move Kris Versteeg, who makes about a million less than Sharp. He isn’t as dominant a player or a person with the Blackhawks. Maybe they can move him to open up some room, which reduces their depth but doesn’t injure their ability to flip lines.

Quenneville could move his wingers around because he had such quality in Toews, Sharp, Bolland the fourth line centre, John Madden, also a free agent. That kind of depth won the Blackhawks the Cup.

That kind of depth is difficult to juggle with all the raises coming Chicago’s way.

Overtime hero Patrick Kane sees his salary move from $825,000 to $6.5 million next year.

Should have been Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Duncan Keith, escalates to $8 million, more than four times more than his salary of this season past.

And then are the long-term signings, Marian Hossa at $7.9 million a year, with a cap hit of $5.233 and the hard to hide from bad contract of Brian Campbell, at $7.14 million.

And with Toews winning the Conn Smythe, his bonus that should have been added on to this year’s cap hit, goes next year because the Blackhawks have no room.

Figuring all this out won’t be easy or comfortable. The top-end talent will remain.

The rest of the roster, we don’t know.


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