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Blackhawks bridge DeBrincat in a deal that gives us a window into the future in Chicago

DeBrincat's three-year, $19.2-million extension mirrors the deals handed to several notable RFAs this summer, and the terms forces us to look ahead to a time when the Blackhawks' roster could have very few traces of the greatest era in franchise history.

In two seasons, he has 69 goals, 128 points, one 40-goal campaign and was nearly a point-per-game player during his sophomore season. And having established himself as one of the purest young goal scorers in the NHL in a mere 164 career games, Alex DeBrincat earned his reward on Thursday: a three-year, $19.2-million contract extension that sets the stage for him to remain with the Chicago Blackhawks well into the future.

Make no mistake, DeBrincat putting pen to paper now, nearly a full year before he was set to become a restricted free agent, is a boon for the Blackhawks. Not only does it remove the potential for Chicago and DeBrincat to get embroiled in the kind of contract impasse that several high-profile RFAs became involved in with their respective clubs over the past off-season, it also sees the Blackhawks get the 21-year-old locked in before he has the chance to escalate his asking price by as much as several-hundred thousand dollars per season as he enters into this third big-league campaign. What Chicago GM Stan Bowman had to weigh was DeBrincat’s current earning power versus what he might be worth had he gone out and replicated his 40-goal, 76-point season. But given the spate of recent bridge deals for RFAs, the Blackhawks decided the timing was right to get the deal done.

It’s clear, too, the impact the recent RFA signings had on DeBrincat’s contract. One need look no further than the structure of the deal, which follows the template set by Timo Meier and the San Jose Sharks earlier this summer. (As an aside, there is no way Meier could have known how influential his contract was at the time, but it has become something of a revolutionary deal.) Over the past month, three noteworthy RFA forwards, Brock Boeser, Brayden Point and Matthew Tkachuk, have signed three-year bridge deals with their respective clubs structured similarly to Meier’s with cap hits ranging from Boeser’s $5.875 million to Tkachuk’s $7 million. DeBrincat’s cap hit across the three campaigns falls somewhere in the middle at $6.4-million per season, but it’s not cap hit that’s important so much as it is the yearly breakdown of the contract.

What the Boeser, Point and Tkachuk contracts, as well as a number of RFA signings regardless of position since Meier’s deal was completed, have in common is that each deal is signing-bonus heavy in the earliest years before a stark increase in base salary in the final season. This elevates the price of a one-year qualifying offer coming out of the bridge deal, and DeBrincat’s contract is a a near carbon copy. In the first two years of his contract, he will earn $5.1 million per season, including a $4-million signing bonus when his pact kicks in next season. However, in the final year, 2022-23, DeBrincat’s base salary leaps to $9 million.

For DeBrincat, the pact is a victory, without a doubt. Despite producing at lower per-game rates than Boeser, he’s set to earn a significant amount more than the Vancouver Canucks winger, and despite playing a far different role – and one of far greater importance, if we’re being completely honest – in Chicago, DeBrincat’s deal isn’t all that far a cry from the $6.75-million per season Point is earning as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s No. 1 center. DeBrincat was able to leverage his durability, production and upside into a contract that pays him somewhere between the two. Well done.

There’s a sneaky bit of genius behind the deal and the decision to follow the same structure and get the deal done from the Blackhawks’ perspective, though. Sure, handing DeBrincat a $9-million qualifying offer heading out of bridge deal is steep and inking him to a long-term extension at that time is unlikely to be so much as a penny cheaper, but when Chicago does go to re-up the sharpshooting winger, there will be plenty of money coming off the books. In fact, other than Brent Seabrook, not a single Blackhawk currently on the NHL roster is under contract come the 2023-24 season, which is when DeBrincat's next contract will have to kick in. That includes Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, both of whom will see their eight-year deals which carry twin $10.5-million cap hits come to an end. In other words, DeBrincat's next deal comes at a time when the slate is wiped clean in Chicago, meaning the Blackhawks can do some planning ahead for when it comes time to go back to the bargaining table.

The added bonus, too, is that if Chicago wishes to keep the trio of DeBrincat, Toews and Kane intact, not to mention retain Dylan Strome and whichever others may develop to become part of the Blackhawks’ next generation, there’s no reason it has to be automatically ruled out. That may be the assumption right now, but keep in mind that the NHL will be renegotiating its television deal in short order. It’s also been projected that the league will soon be bringing in additional money by way of gambling revenues. The introduction of the Seattle expansion franchise should also be a financial positive for the league, as well. And the result could very well be a significant increase in the cap in three seasons’ time. That opens the door for the Blackhawks to retain the entire core, even if longstanding cornerstones Kane and Toews will be entering their mid-30s by that time.

At some point, the Blackhawks were going to have to begin locking in their young guns to really, truly set the stage for the future. DeBrincat’s deal does that. And now, while Chicago seeks an on-ice resurgence, the Blackhawks can also turn their attention to what will assuredly be an expensive, and quite possibly transformative, summer in three years’ time.

(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)

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