Stan Bowman's Plan Taking Shape

Blackhawks prospects

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Stan Bowman is a busy, busy man. On Monday, he re-signed Corey Crawford to a hefty six year, $36M extension. Wednesday it was Niklas Hjalmarsson’s turn when the defenseman signed a five year, $20.5M contract extension of his own. Bowman has now sewn up the two biggest UFAs for this upcoming season and solidified his core for at least the next two years in the process. The Hawks are making it known: the path to the Cup definitely goes through Chicago…for a loooong time.

Hjalmarsson’s deal is more friendly and market-appropriate compared to Crawford’s mega-deal. The Swedish blue-liner will start making $4.1M a year starting next fall that runs through 2019, a modest $600k raise. He’s earned it and is now fully entrenched on the second defense pairing in Chicago for the rest of the decade in front of Crawford. The two new deals give the Hawks 14 players locked up for just under $60M for the 2014-15 season. Combine that with small raises for RFAs Jeremy Morin, Jimmy Hayes and Andrew Shaw, a few spare parts to round out the roster and the team is right near the 2013 salary cap of $64.3M. Solid work right there, made even better when you factor in the expected raise in the cap ceiling for 2014.

There is no way to tell exactly how much the cap will raise as it’s tied to league revenue, but history shows that it will likely go up $5M, give or take. So say the cap goes to $68M; Bowman has the team in position to add a decent veteran or two on a short term deal to fill out the team, or save the space for an in season acquisition. He shouldn’t have any trouble getting veterans on the cheap to join a title contender and there are going to be cheap options in the pipeline that could make a surprise appearance. Congratulations are in order and Bowman can breathe easy, but not for very long. The end of the 2015 season has the Hawks GM’s next great challenge – re-up Kane, Toews, Leddy, Saad, Kruger and any or all of the RFAs listed above. Oh, and Brent Seabrook needs a new deal after 2016.

Bowman deserves credit for keeping this team so intact, but he’s got plenty of work to do with what will be his career-defining handling of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews ahead of the 2015 summer. The tandem signed identical five year, $32.5M deals in 2010. That nets them each $6.3M cap hits, which will each surely rise at least $2-3M in new deals. A good comparison is in Pittsburgh where  Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin make $8.7M and $9.5M, respectively. Say that the Cap goes up to $72M, to be modest, for the 2015-2016 season. That creates enough space to give Kane and Toews another pair of identical deals, this time each at $9M/year and leaves $2-3M or so to handle the rest of the roster. There isn’t enough in this scenario for all the remaining UFA/RFAs, not to mention Seabrook’s pending need for an extension. So how does this play out?

Odds are that of all the RFAs mentioned way back at the beginning of this story, Shaw is the lone one to receive an extension. Think $2.5M or so. That’s the rest of the cap space. I just sort of killed my own scenario. Unless, of course, Bowman trades Nick Leddy to free up another $3M under the cap, Kruger signs for a modest raise and the Hawks continue plugging in prospects to fill the voids. Leddy is expendable because his replacement is waiting in Rockford in the form of Adam Clendening. Bowman already showed his willingness for this path to build from within and keep his top assets around when he dealt Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik for a combined five draft picks while re-signing Brian Bickell all in a matter of hours during the entry draft in June.

Clendening is a 6’0″, 190lb. clone of Leddy, with a similar puck-moving style of play and will suit the Hawks well in his stead. If Kruger can’t be brought back cheap there are other options that will hopefully be ready to contribute in another year or two, notably 2011 first round choices Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault and what looks like the steal of the 2012 draft in the Finn Teuvo Teravainen. This keeps with the youth movement idea Bowman and Co. are going with in camp this fall and will most definitely continue if He’s to keep Kane, Toews and further down the road Saad and Seabrook in the fold for years to come.

Bowman has his work cut out for him, but he’s laid out the foundation to keep his team a title contender for the foreseeable future. He doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone anymore; so long as he doesn’t get greedy on the open market, stays committed to the draft and developing talent, he’ll keep Chicago in position at the top of the NHL and possibly cement his legacy with a modern dynasty.

all NHL salary cap information taken from capgeek.com

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