With news on Monday that the Blackhawks have answered the offer sheet from San Jose to keep Niklas Hjalmarsson in the fold, at the price of $14M over four years ($3.5M per), the fine print told Blackhawks fans that another departure may be coming in the future.
There are many options for the Hawks to cut payroll for next year, but most of the fringe assets have already been moved; there isn’t another underachieving $3M salary on the books. So how to the Blackhawks make some salary disappear without hurting the roster’s competitive makeup more than they already have?
It might be time for GM Stan Bowman to call Rocky. Not Wirtz, but the mountains – in Denver.
The Avalanche are currently sitting around $6M under the salary floor with 18 players under contract, and really only stand to add a significant bump with a new deal for restricted free agent Peter Mueller. Just as the Blackhawks were three years ago, the Avs are a talented young team on the rise, but have some areas where they could improve.
One area they looked to improve last year was their blue line; the Blackhawks might be able to help them both improve their defensive unit and meet the salary floor at the same time.
The Avalanche haven’t been very thrilled with John-Michael Liles in the last year, and tried to move him at the deadline. His value is limited as a defenseman, as he is best served as a power-play quarterback. Last year he had 17 assists with a man advantage while totaling 31 points in 59 games, but wasn’t carrying the weight of the expectations the 29-year-old brought with him to the NHL.
Liles’ contract has two remaining seasons with a $4.2M cap number.
The thought of bringing Liles to the Blackhawks might make some fans uncomfortable, but there could be a method to the madness if it saved the Blackhawks enough money.
Enter Brian Campbell.
Campbell is a better offensive player than Liles and plays better defense, but neither is going to be nominated for a Norris Trophy any time soon. Because Campbell’s a better player, he obviously makes more money than Liles; Campbell’s contract comes with a $7.14M cap number for six more seasons. Campbell also received the dreaded no-trade clause when he broke the bank with Dale Tallon two years ago, which means the Hawks would have to find a good situation for Campbell with the potential for a winning team in the not-too-distant future.
Let’s make a deal?
Campbell would be a huge upgrade for Colorado’s power play and overall defensive group, and would help an athletic, younger team speed-up the game the way Tallon hoped he would when he handed him the keys to the bank.
While Liles’ would be a downgrade in defensive ability on the blue-line, he would still bring some value to the Blackhawks. As a point man on the power play he could replace Campbell, and he averaged over 18 minutes per game last year; he would move to the Hawks’ third defensive pair, likely as a sixth defenseman, but could eat minutes at the bottom of the rotation when needed.
Going to Denver might be a good enough scenario that Campbell would waive his NTC, but the trouble would be talking the Avs into taking his contract. The $34.4M difference between Liles’ remaining cap number in the next two years and Campbell’s albatross would need significant meat added to the deal from the Hawks’ side of the table.
What if the Hawks threw in a prospect and draft pick to make the deal more appetizing?
After watching the display this weekend at the Hawks’ Prospect Camp, moving Kyle Beach might be more reasonable than before. While moving the top forward prospect in the organization would be hard to stomach, especially if Beach produces someday, his potential for success could be tempting enough for Colorado to take a chance.
His antics might be enough for the Hawks to sell him while they can.
Add to that one of the six picks the Hawks have in the first three rounds of the 2011 draft, and the Hawks might be able to build a strong enough package to convince the Avalanche to take Campbell’s salary at the limited expense of Liles, a player they don’t want anyway.
There are a number of other factors that play into the Blackhawks even making this proposal.
First, the realities that Shawn LaLonde will likely be in the NHL next year, and that Ryan Stanton might be ready as well, means the Hawks need to find room for them.
Secondly, Nick Leddy could be ready to replace Campbell as an elite skating defenseman within the next two seasons; while the Hawks can’t move Leddy up yet, Campbell stands to be a roadblock in the future.
Of course Leddy wasn’t even a senior in high school yet when Campbell signed his contract, and wasn’t part of the Hawks organization until he was acquired in the Cam Barker trade this past season, so the Hawks couldn’t have planned around having a potentially elite offensive player on their blue line when they overpaid Campbell.
The final factor to consider is the forward depth in the organization from the last two drafts and the trades Stan Bowman has made this summer. Just 30 days ago there weren’t talented young forwards like Viktor Stalberg or Jeremy Morin in the system; Bowman has added a handful of good young assets to the organization by trade and the draft that could make moving a top prospect like Beach more conceivable than it would have been in May.
So the Blackhawks would take on a player described by many as a “scrub” to save $3M in the next two years and $7.14 for four years after that. The Avalanche would have to see the potential of Beach and a draft pick or two being enough to add Campbell’s salary, but would clearly be receiving a big upgrade on their blue line.
This might not be a popular idea, but it’s better than the potential alternative: trading Patrick Sharp.