Blackhawks: An Early Look at the Hawks’ Summer Salary Cap Dilemma

The Chicago Blackhawks again have some significant salary cap issues looming large this summer, let’s take a look at some of the impending contract negotiations and try to determine who will be the next Hawks’ cap casualty.

The Chicago Blackhawks have seen their fair share of cap casualties during their long-standing stretch of success under the current regime, but have somehow always made the right choice in retrospect, evident by their sustained success since their return to the postseason in the spring of 2009.

Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman has had to make the tough calls on some of the most beloved role players to don the Indian-head sweater. From Andrew Ladd to Andrew Shaw, and all of those in between. Much to Bowman’s credit, he has always seemed to have made the right move, never losing a player that took the Hawks’ out of contention.

Looking ahead to this summer, the Blackhawks again have some difficult decisions to make with their roster, most notably, re-signing forward Artemi Panarin. The 25-year-old winger has quickly become one of the most beloved players on the Blackhawks over the course of the past two seasons, even helping take away the sting of the loss of Andrew Shaw this past summer.

Panarin stormed onto the NHL scene last season, partnering with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov on the Hawks’ second line for the majority of the 2015-2016 season, a season in which Panarin recorded 30 goals and 47 assists en route to winning the Calder Memorial Trophy, the honor bestowed upon the NHL’s top rookie each season.

This season has been more of the same for the young forward, amassing 15 goals and 21 assists thus far for the Blackhawks in 2016-2017. The “Breadman”, a play on words with the similarity in his last name and the popular “Panera Bread” soup and sandwich shop, will command a new deal this summer in the ballpark of $6 million dollars per season.

As it stands today the Blackhawks have roughly $1.7 million dollars separating their payroll and the NHL salary cap threshold of $73 million dollars, with multiple other Hawks’ player eligible for free-agency this summer, including the likes of Andrew Desjardins, Scott Darling, and Brian Campbell, Stan Bowman is going to have to do an impressive amount of work to keep the Breadman on Chicago’s west-side come next season.

The next Blackhawks cap casualty doesn’t have to be Panarin or Darling

I’m going to suggest something here, that may not be very popular, but could certainly remedy two potential issues this coming offseason. The Blackhawks could open up the necessary $6 million dollars per season over the next three years, that it will take to ink Panarin to a multi-year deal, by trading veteran goaltender Corey Crawford.

Crawford has been a key cog in the Blackhawks Stanley Cup runs over the last few years, but the Blackhawks currently have his potential replacement on their roster right now in the form of Scott Darling.

No one has forgotten how good Corey Crawford has been to this point in his career, or how much he has meant to two of the Hawks’ last three Stanley Cup Championship seasons, but Stan Bowman has proven in the past that he is not afraid to make the tough decisions when it comes to moving beloved players for the greater good of the Hawks’ sustained success.

Outside of opening up the money to sign Panarin and Darling to long-term deals, Crawford would bring back a valuable return in a trade. Whether it be a young, affordable skater, a draft pick or even a combination of both, the return assets coupled with the ability to extend Panarin and Darling would solve a few of the Hawks’ looming issues.

As far as the question of whether or not Darling can be the everyday goaltender for the Blackhawks, he has proven over his three seasons with the Hawks’ that he certainly can. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, when Darling came into the league, Crawford is fifth among goaltenders who have played in at least 40 games with a save percentage of .925. Darling is eighth at .922. We have seen what Darling can do in a long stretch this past month after Crawford went down, when Darling posted a 6-3-1 record with a .930 save percentage and a shutout in 10 games.

Over his career Darling has posted a record of 31-15-6 with a .922 save percentage and three shutouts over the course of 60 games, with 52 of them being starts. Darling has only posted five RBS “Really Bad Starts”, a statistic that deems any game in which the goaltender starts the game and posts a save percentage lower than .850 for that game, a really bad start.

Darling has made it clear this month, that while he is playing for a new contract during the summer this season, as far as he is concerned, he is auditioning for his hometown team the Chicago Blackhawks between now and then. If the Hawks’ do chose to hold onto Corey Crawford as their starting goalie after this season, they surely will not have the cap space to keep both of the goaltenders moving forward, so if the Blackhawks ever had the inkling to make Darling the cost-effective heir apparent to Crawford in the blue paint, it’s going to happen sometime before the 2017-2018 season.

I’ve said it already, Stan Bowman has made the tough decisions in the past to ensure the Hawks’ sustained success, this season, the tough decision should mean that Crow joins the likes of Patrick Sharp and Andrew Shaw, as the latest unfortunate cap casualty.

Corey Crawford has been excellent for the Blackhawks for quite some time, and has two rings to show for it, but keeping the 31-year-old goalie at the potential expense of one of the best young forwards in the entire NHL in Panarin, as well as a younger, cheaper, and most certainly starter-quality goaltender in Darling, just doesn’t make much sense at all for the future of the Blackhawks.

 

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