The Chicago Blackhawks are facing a tough cap situation in 2016-17 thanks to Brent Seabrook’s eight-year, $55-million extension, and GM Stan Bowman could be looking to shed salary well ahead of time. According to a report, Bryan Bickell is already being shopped. In Edmonton, the Oilers could be looking to ditch defensemen Nikita Nikitin and Andrew Ference.
When the Blackhawks signed Brent Seabrook to a monster eight-year, $55-million contract extension, it was evident that there were changes coming in Chicago. With a number of big money contracts, eventually someone would have to be moved, but there are reports that move may be coming sooner than expected.
According to a report for Mark Spector, Chicago is again trying to move Bryan Bickell, who had arguably one of the worst seasons of his career in 2014-15. Bickell’s name was in the rumor mill all summer and that the Blackhawks could be once again throwing his name into trade talks is unsurprising.
Beyond a troubling year in the regular season, Bickell, who scored a four-year, $16-million deal in large part due to his playoff contributions, posted a meager five points — all assists — in 18 post-season tilts as the Blackhawks went on to their third Stanley Cup in six seasons. Bickell, who was instrumental in the Blackhawks’ last-minute Stanley Cup-clinching victory in 2013, was a scratch for the final three games against Tampa Bay this past June.
Spector rightfully points out that moving Bickell and his $4-million cap hit isn’t only important because of Seabrook’s soon-to-be $6.875-million annual salary, but because key roster players Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger will both be heading for restricted free agency come July.
Kruger was already stuck in no man’s land this past off-season, having his rights owned by the Blackhawks but unable to work out a deal with Chicago GM Stan Bowman until mid-September. In the end, after reports that Kruger was seeking a long-term deal with the Blackhawks, he got a paltry $100,000 raise on a one-year deal. As an RFA again next season, Kruger will be seeking stability, which Chicago would be wise to give their top penalty killer and third-line center.
As for Shaw, he’s a fan favorite in Chicago and has become a fixture of the team’s power play. He has the ability to be a 15-20 goal scorer and the Blackhawks would certainly love to retain him. But if they’re forced to choose between Shaw and Kruger, one would have to think the smart money is on keeping the latter.
FERENCE, NIKITIN EXPENDABLE IN EDMONTON
One name that was mentioned by Spector in connection with Bickell was Oilers blueliner Nikita Nikitin. Believe it or not, yes, Edmonton — long said to be just a few good defensemen away from competing — is in a position to ship out some defensemen. Nikitin and Andrew Ference appear to be the top options, reports Spector.
Nikitin, who is set to earn $4.5 million this season, carries the bigger salary, though he might be easier to move out than Ference. Nikitin’s deal is up at the end of the 2015-16 campaign and his UFA status makes him nothing more than a rental, whereas Ference is owed $3.25 million this season and next, which is a healthy cap hit for a 36-year-old defender.
Nikitin had a rough season in 2014-15, dealing with injury and suiting up for a mere 42 games, in which he scored four goals and 10 points. Ference, the Oilers’ captain, had a reduced role and managed three goals and 14 points in 70 games.
Because of Edmonton’s off-season acquisition of Andrej Sekera, as well as the development of Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart, has made the Oilers well stocked on the backend. They can afford to shed salary when it comes to the blueline and either Ference or Nikitin make sense.
Nurse, 20, was considered a strong candidate to crack the Edmonton lineup this season out of training camp, but was demoted to the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors to begin the season. However, should Nurse play well in his first real stint in the AHL, he could make a good case for being an early-season call up.