With a huge summer for the future of the Chicago Blackhawks on the horizon, there is much anticipation surrounding the potential moves the organization can make to improve and restore the glory of a franchise that was the NHL benchmark from 2009–2017.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions, misinformation and flat-out pipe dreams circulating about just what is and is not realistic for the Hawks to achieve this summer. Some will tell you that the Blackhawks will have “$20+ million” to spend in free agency, which is not entirely true. When the free agent contracts expire in July, if the salary cap goes up to $83 million (as rumored), the Blackhawks would have over $22 million in cap space, but with only 15 players on the roster.
Fifteen players does not make an NHL roster. Collin Delia will be with the team next season and gobble up $1 million. Defenseman Henri Jokiharju will likely make the NHL roster with his $925,000 as well. This is already nearly $2 million off the top without any signings.
Another factor that needs to be taken into account is that Stan Bowman and his management team will need to make decisions on the 11 pending restricted free agents they have. Victor Ejdsell, Anton Forsberg, Gustav Forsling, Blake Hillman, Luke Johnson, David Kampf, Slater Koekkoek, Anthony Louis, Brendan Perlini, Dylan Sikura and Spencer Watson will all hit the restricted market. If I had to guess, eight of those players will be qualified or signed to extensions. Ejdsell signed to go back to Sweden while Forsberg and Watson’s futures with the Blackhawks are murky, at best.
For this exercise, let us assume that Kampf ($925,000), Perlini ($863,333) and one of either Koekkoek or Forsling are back ($875,000) on the pro roster at relatively the same salaries. These moves would knock (roughly and very conservatively) $4.5 million off Stan’s precious $20+ million cap space.
Admittedly, it has been widely suspected that Artem Anisimov has been on the trade block and could free up an additional $4.55 million of cap space, but that is a deal that would have to be done after his no-movement clause drops off on July 1. And, Chicago would almost have to take back some salary to unload the enigmatic Russian.
Another obstacle is the fact that Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome could command as much as $10 million combined when their current entry-level deals come to an end July 1, 2020—or before, if the Hawks choose to (or can) get them signed before their ELCs are up. Money needs to be allocated for them, as well. The salary cap will certainly rise again in 2020, but not an additional $10 million.
The myth of the offer sheet
This brings me to another issue that many people do not fully understand: offer sheets.
Considering that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning are gingerly straddling the salary cap with players left to sign, there has been speculation that the offer sheet might return to the NHL this summer after a nearly 10-year hiatus. Toronto has Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen and Mitch Marner due for deals and Tampa has Brayden Point due for a big pay day. Teams like Winnipeg have players like Jacob Trouba up for a raise, as well. But, I am not optimistic that there will be an offer sheet scenario and there are a few reasons why.
- As silly as it sounds, the NHL has turned into a league where general managers are afraid of offending their fellow general managers or hurting feelings by poaching other team’s players. They are afraid of repercussions at a later date. You can say, “who cares?” but it is a real consideration.
- These general managers have been planning for this offseason for quite a while. They know who they are willing to trade and who they are willing to keep. There are contingency plans in place to either clear up cap space by moving other players or trade the RFA rights before the offer sheet window even opens. I would be very surprised if the major RFAs make it to market. If the players actually do, the option to match the offer and make corresponding moves to fit them in is certainly realistic.
- Lastly, restricted free agency compensation. Not only does an offer sheet cost salary, but there is also compensation due to the former team. Based on the potential salary ranges that players like Marner, Point and Trouba will be wading in, the compensation would be significant. This is a list of compensation due based on the qualifying contract offer the incumbent team sends out:
$0–$1,395,053 No compensation
$1,395,054–$2,113,716 Third round pick
$2,113,717–$4,227,437 Second round pick
$4,227,438–$6,341,152 First round pick and third round pick
$6,341,153–$8,454,871 First round pick, second round pick and third round pick
$8,454,872–$10,568,589 Two first round picks, second round pick and third round pick
$10,568,590 or higher Four first round picks
Estimates of a few RFA salaries this summer are as follows (Per Evolving Wild):
Keep in mind that these are conservative analytical estimates based on comparable players and the draft picks must be your own, not ones acquired from other teams. Marner, Point and Trouba would cost a king’s ransom and basically nullify the entire 2020 draft, or worse, the next few years of drafting.
This is because offer sheet compensation is determined not purely by the overall contract cap hit, but is divided among the first five years of the contract (or fewer if the contract is less than five years long). So, a seven-year, $56 million offer sheet contract does not equate to an $8 million cap hit for compensation. Rather, it would take the total $56 million and divide that money among the first five years, meaning the compensation cap hit would actually be $11.2 million. So, what on paper looks like an offer sheet that would only cost first, second and third round picks would actually cost four first round picks, rendering the offer-sheeting team without a first round pick until the 2024 NHL Entry Draft.
Instead, the Blackhawks, realistically, would be better off trading for the player rights…if they had desirable assets to send back, that is.
Outside of Adam Boqvist or Nicolas Beaudin, the Blackhawks have little to offer a team looking to acquire young top end talent to replace (or remediate) the player leaving. Unless the Blackhawks dangle their shiny third overall pick in front of another team.
It is highly doubtful that the Blackhawks (or any other team, for that matter) sign a player to an offer sheet. If a deal of that magnitude was to occur, it is much more likely that teams would acquire the RFA rights prior to July 1 and sign the player directly. This method also allows the player to sign a contract for an eighth year not available though the offer sheet route. The rules and compensation essentially discourage the practice without formally doing so.