There are four players synonymous with the Chicago Blackhawks’ present-day success: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. But no matter how integral those four have been to the franchise, it was assumed that eventually the Blackhawks would have to break up the band.
But with the Blackhawks already facing a serious salary cap crunch — the very thing that made some believe Seabrook could be the odd-man out in Chicago — it appears GM Stan Bowman has other ideas. According to the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc, the Blackhawks are, “closing in on a long-term extension,” with Seabrook.
While that’s all good and well for the Blackhawks, it begs two big questions: What, exactly, would Seabrook’s long-term extension look like and how does Bowman plan to make it all work under the salary cap?
First thing’s first: what could Seabrook’s new deal look like?
Seabrook’s second contract, a three-year, $10.5-million deal, was set to expire following 2010-11. At the time, he was averaging more than 24 minutes per game and was on pace for the best offensive season of his career. In February 2011, Seabrook inked his current five-year, $29-million contract, and he went on to finish the season with a career-best nine goals and 48 points.
That he earned a contract with an annual cap hit of $5.8-million was in hopes that he hadn’t reached his ceiling. Fact of the matter is, though, Seabrook has only eclipsed the 40-point plateau one other time in the past four seasons and, as he has aged, his ice time has slipped to roughly 22 mintues per game.
In that sense, it seems that Seabrook could be set to take a bit of a haircut when it comes to annual cap hit, but that would be entirely dependent on how he values himself in the free agent market. Seabrook shouldn’t have a higher cap hit than Keith’s $5.54-million and there’s an argument to be made he shouldn’t be out-earning Niklas Hjalmarsson ($4.1-million), either. Even still, Seabrook could command $5-million on the open market and it might take the Blackhawks ponying up that kind of cash to keep the veteran defenseman.
With the assumption Seabrook's ask tops out in the $5-5.5-million range, how exactly does Bowman make it all work? At present, the Blackhawks have less than $1-million in cap space for 2015-16, with Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, Viktor Tikhonov and Jeremy Morin set to come off the books next season. Those four contracts expiring, plus Seabrook’s, means more than $11-million is set to open up for Chicago. However, it’s important to note center Artem Anisimov is due a $1.27-million raise, which could make any increase in the cap negligible.
One would assume Kruger will be back with Chicago, as he’s the cornerstone of their bottom-six. Shaw has become a fan favorite, but his offense could be replaceable. Tikhonov’s ability is a question mark and Morin is a fringe player at the moment. With Kruger in the $3-million range (on the high end), Seabrook at $5.5-million and Anisimov’s raise, the Blackhawks could still have roughly $3-million to work with.
While the money (almost shockingly) works, it doesn’t leave the Blackhawks much room to fill out their roster. With Kruger and Seabrook back at the estimated top-end prices, Chicago would have nine forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders under contract at more than $68-million. And if they want to bring Shaw and/or Tikhonov back, the matter is even further complicated. As always, Bryan Bickell’s name — and his $4-million cap hit — will be floated out there. With Bickell gone, keeping the roster intact would be easier, but it’s not going to be a walk in the park.
Of course, there’s always the possibility of a discounted price for the Blackhawks when it comes to Seabrook’s extension. That, too, would make things much easier for Bowman. But the veteran blueliner has a chance to cash in next off-season and he wouldn’t be wrong to take it.
Chicago’s front office has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to constructing the roster and working within the salary cap, especially considering they’ve blown up the roster twice since 2010 and still managed to capture two additional Stanley Cups. But should the Blackhawks and Seabrook come to terms on a long-term deal anywhere near the $5-million range, there will be more difficult decisions for Bowman's Blackhawks in the salary cap world.