It’s been less than a week since the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, but the aftermath of the victory brings speculation over how GM Stan Bowman will address his salary cap problems for next season.
Various sources noted the Blackhawks currently have more than $57 million committed to 14 players for next season and with the cap expected to rise to $58.8 million it’s clear Bowman must dump salary to not only get under the cap, but retain several key players and still fill out the remainder of his roster.
Compounding the problem are bonuses for stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, including $1.3 million to Toews for winning the Conn Smythe Trophy, which James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail estimated puts the Hawks over the cap by $4 million.
It’s expected Bowman will bury goalie Cristobal Huet and his $5.625 million cap hit for next season in the minors, while defenseman Brent Sopel and his $2.33 million salary could also be demoted or bought out.
That still won’t free up enough space and could force Bowman to consider trading a couple of key roster players.
The obvious trade candidate would be defenseman Brian Campbell and his $7.14 million per season contract, but his performance this season didn’t match his salary level and combined with his limited no-trade clause, that makes him almost impossible to move.
Jim Kelley of Sports Illustrated suggested winger Marian Hossa as a trade candidate, but his contract is considerably longer than Campbell’s (expiring in 2021) with a cap hit of $5.275 million per season, which probably won’t be attractive to other clubs, either.
Other trade possibilities include center Patrick Sharp ($3.9 million), winger Kris Versteeg ($3.08 million) and playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien ($3 million).
Bowman’s cap woes also make his team a prime target for offer sheets to restricted free agents such as goaltender Antti Niemi and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
The Blackhawks still have plenty of talented depth to repeat as Cup champions, but dealing away key players like Sharp or Versteeg or failing to re-sign Niemi or Hjalmarsson will make it considerably more difficult to defend the title.
• The Blackhawks aren’t the only Cup finalist that has to deal with potential roster and cap issues, as Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren also faces some difficult off-season decisions.
Holmgren presently has more than $48 million committed to 16 players for 2010-11 and has several key players – including Braydon Coburn, Dan Carcillo, Darroll Powe, Arron Asham and Ryan Parent – to re-sign.
As always with the Flyers, goaltending is a critical issue. Despite journeyman Michael Leighton’s strong playoff performance, he gave up some weak goals in the final, leading to suggestions he’s not ready to handle a full-time starter’s role.
If Holmgren opts for a replacement, he might not find much to his liking via free agency, where Marty Turco, Evgeni Nabokov, Chris Mason and Dan Ellis could be available.
A trade is a more viable route as the Flyers possess considerable depth at forward with which to use as trade bait. It is possible Jeff Carter’s name will pop up again in the rumor mill.
Carter was linked to the Montreal Canadiens last December in a rumored deal for goaltender Jaroslav Halak, so don’t be surprised if Carter is again linked to Montreal for Halak or perhaps Carey Price.
As always when it comes to the Flyers’ goaltenders, the salary cap will determine if they seek a better starter or bring back Leighton as their No. 1 under an affordable one- or two-year extension.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.