The question when it comes to the trade between the Chicago Blackhawks and Carolina Hurricanes is not which team won the transaction. We already know that. The more pressing question, one that will only be answered in the coming years, is just how badly did the Hurricanes fleece the Blackhawks?
And the reason why is pretty damned depressing. It’s because the salary cap punishes teams that develop good, young players and spends money to perpetuate a winning culture and rewards those who muddle around in mediocrity and do it on the cheap. The deal that sent Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell (and his $4 million cap hit) to the Hurricanes for a second-round pick in 2016 and a third-rounder in 2017 represents everything that is wrong with the salary cap.
When a team has to spend up to reach a salary floor that is well above what their business model supports, that’s a problem. When you have injured players whose careers are over changing teams to shuffle dollars around and prop up those small-market teams, that’s not good. And when you have a system that stifles excellence and enforces parity, that makes for a far less compelling product. And really, how is it working for those “budget/small market” teams anyway? One hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since the Hurricanes and Anaheim Ducks won in 2006 and ’07.
But that’s a rant for another day. Let’s focus on the trade itself. Because the Hurricanes are so ridiculously far below the floor, they get a terrific young prospect for essentially nothing. Yes, they do have to absorb Bickell’s cap hit, but that was $4 million they were going to have to pay to someone to fill a roster spot anyway. The Hurricanes are still more than $8 million under the salary floor for next season. They have nine forwards, six defenseman and one goalie under contract, which is basically two-thirds of their team.
So they’ve set themselves up pretty nicely to sign a bunch of cheap players, then add Sebastien Aho and his entry-level contract for next season so they can get up to the floor. Or perhaps they’ll be able to take on one or two more outcasts, injured players or maybe even a retired Pavel Datsyuk. Good on them. That ought to go a long way toward filling the 6,477 empty seats they averaged for every home game this past season.
In the long run, however, this trade could be a game-changer for the Hurricanes. When they traded Eric Staal to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline, they received a prospect and second-round picks in 2016 and ’17. Given that they gave up a second-rounder in 2016 and a third-rounder in ’17, they essentially got Bickell and Teravainen for Staal, a declining asset they had no interest in re-signing. That’s some good managing by Ron Francis right there.
The key to the deal is Teravainen, a terrific prospect who hasn’t yet lived up to the advanced billing. But it has to be emphatically pointed out that Teravainen essentially paid the price for Bickell’s lack of production. He was a casualty in this transaction, and a very steep price the Blackhawks had to pay to get some much-needed cap relief. Perhaps if Artemi Panarin hadn’t had such a good season and hit all his bonuses the Blackhawks might not be in this position. But they are because essentially they went out and signed a free agent who turned out to be an outstanding NHL player. Most of the time you get rewarded for doing that. But in the case of the Hawks, they’re being penalized, again.
You could argue that Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman should not have been seduced by Bickell’s outstanding play in Chicago’s 2013 Stanley Cup run and should not have given him a four-year deal worth $16 million. Fine. But that’s one bad contract out of how many? So now Bickell and Teravainen join the likes of Brandon Saad, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy – and that’s not even all of them – as Blackhawks cap casualties. Since first winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, the Blackhawks have dealt away more quality NHL players than some organizations have on their rosters.
Much of this is being done because the Blackhawks have the misfortune of having two of the best players in the game and have to pay them commensurate with that. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will account for $21 million of the Hawks’ cap commitments for the next seven years, so they’ll always be faced with these decisions. Luckily, the Hawks are one of the best-run franchises in the NHL so they’ve been able to keep the pipeline flowing.
But you have to wonder when the day will come where an aging Kane and Toews will have to carry too much of the load because the cap casualties have made the Hawks a shell of their former selves. That will be a happy day indeed at the NHL offices because in the NHL, everyone needs to have a chance to win. It’s just better that way. We certainly wouldn’t want to have all the buzz and excitement that a dynasty creates. Bring on the vanilla.