The Blackhawks’ salary dump and roster clearing has become an annual tradition in the six off-seasons since Chicago hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2010, their first of the post-expansion era.
On Wednesday, the tradition continued for a seventh consecutive off-season. This time it came in the form of a package deal that cleared cap space — the Blackhawks said goodbye to Bryan Bickell and his $4 million contract — but also cost Chicago a potential star in Teuvo Teravainen. The pair was flipped to the Carolina Hurricanes for draft picks in a trade that came seemingly out of nowhere. The on-ice effect of the Bickell and Teravainen trade will be, for the most part, unknown until the season begins, but as far as the off-season goes, the deal may have saved the Blackhawks from having to rid themselves of another familiar face.
The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reported the trade, and subsequent freeing of millions in cap space, has the Blackhawks in a position to bring back 24-year-old Andrew Shaw. And Chicago GM Stan Bowman sounds like he wants to bring the agitating winger back into the fold if the money is right.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Bowman said of re-signing Shaw, per Lazerus. “We certainly had to move Bickell to have some flexibility going into next season.”
Keeping Shaw, who has been a key part of two Stanley Cup victories in Chicago, is a minor victory for the Blackhawks, and some would consider finding the space to keep him a miracle considering Chicago’s history of losing their talent in the cap crunch. And while Shaw’s re-signing will almost assuredly be met with cheers from Blackhawks fans, there should be some concern about the price of locking him up.
Shaw’s contract that ended following the 2015-16 campaign was a two-year, $4 million deal. He scored 29 goals and 60 points in 157 games over that span and added another nine goals and 18 points in 29 playoff games. That’s good production for a bottom-six forward. However, if the Blackhawks sign Shaw to a deal worth anything more than $3-3.5 million spread over several seasons, there’s potential for his contract to backfire just as Bickell’s had. But that’s not meant to be an indictment of Bickell or Shaw.
While it may have been an overpayment, Bickell earned his $4 million due to heroic post-season performances and Bowman and Co. could never have foreseen such a steep drop off in Bickell’s play. On another team with a different cap situation, Bickell’s contract may not have been quite as maligned as it was in Chicago. It became an anchor for the Blackhawks, though, and one that was buried firmly in the AHL for much of the past season. In order to get rid of the deal, the Blackhawks had to sweeten the pot with Teravainen, which is a loss that could prove incredibly costly.
As for Shaw, he deserves a raise, just like Bickell did when he signed his four-year, $16 million deal. Shaw has been excellent in his role for the past few seasons and he’s an integral part of the Blackhawks’ middle-six as well as a net-front presence on the power play. If he signs a deal worth around $3.5 million per season, that will be because he earned it. It’s likely he would have landed about that much if he were an unrestricted free agent. But, like Bickell, the issue won’t so much be with Shaw as it is his cap hit in the Blackhawks’ cap-crunch world.
Signing Shaw to a deal similar to Bickell’s would essentially negate the cap space Bowman just cleared, and it would see just nine forwards and six defensemen from 2015-16’s end-of-year roster under contract. It would leave Chicago with little room, if any, to add through free agency. And in 2017-18, the Blackhawks will have to worry about a raise for Artemi Panarin, who is almost certain to command $4 million-plus per season following a brilliant rookie campaign. With how stagnant the salary cap has been, there doesn’t project to be a large increase in the upper limit and Shaw’s contract could end up being the new anchor.
Success has a price and for Chicago the price has been valuable cap space and a bevy of talented players, the most recent of which is still fresh in the mind with Teravainen now a Hurricane. However, moving out Bickell’s deal put the Blackhawks in the best position, cap-wise, that they have been in the off-season in a number of years. Per CapFriendly, Chicago has roughly $8.4 million in cap space, and if the cap goes up, that figure could reach as much as $10.5 million. It’s been a while since the Blackhawks have had that kind of breathing room.
Signing Shaw will be great news, and moving out Bickell is even better, but the Blackhawks, as always, will have to carefully plot out their course. Because if Bowman isn’t careful, he could be forced to say goodbye down the line to another young, talented player to rid Chicago of another contract that they can’t afford to keep around.