With reports that the Blackhawks signed forward Jamal Mayers for another year, the Hawks have a pretty full roster already looking ahead to the 2012-13 season.
So what does the Mayers signing mean to this summer’s free agent agenda for Chicago?
First, we’ll look forward with one assumption: not all rookies have a guaranteed roster spot. After a strong playoff performance against Vancouver, Ben Smith’s injuries during the preseason sent him to Rockford to begin the 2011-12 season and he didn’t get back to the NHL.
While Andrew Shaw was certainly impressive in his time with the Hawks, assuming Jimmy Hayes or Dylan Olsen is in Chicago in October isn’t set in stone. The only rookie we can safely put on the NHL roster for Opening Night (if healthy) is Marcus Kruger.
With that in mind, if we remove Shaw, Hayes and Olsen from the NHL roster, the Blackhawks still have an intriguing lineup already in place. Consider these potential lines, filled with players already under contract (with the grain of salt that the positions might not be best suited for the player):
Patrick Sharp – Jonathan Toews – Patrick Kane
Viktor Stalberg – Marcus Kruger – Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell – Dave Bolland – Michael Frolik
_________ – Jamal Mayers – Daniel Carcillo
Add to those lines the defensive pairs that are already under contract:
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Steve Montador – ___________
And, of course, the Blackhawks already have both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery already signed for next year.
What does that add up to?
The lineup presented is 18 players and just a shade over $57.4M committed for the 2012-13 season. There are only two available roster positions in the lineup, and however many reserves the organization wants to carry during the season.
The good news: if the NHL doesn’t raise the salary cap one cent for the 2012-13 season (a real possibility with the CBA expiring in September), this Blackhawks team would have over $8.5M to fill those two roster spots. That dollar amount could mean a marquee free agent is affordable for the Hawks this summer.
Now consider the cap hits of potential youngsters that could be part of the mix this fall:
- Andrew Shaw: $565,000
- Brandon Saad: $894,667
- Jimmy Hayes: $875,000
- Dylan Olsen: $870,000
- Jeremy Morin: $866,667
- Brandon Pirri: $870,000
- Kyle Beach: $1,170,833
Without a trade, the Blackhawks could use any one or two of these youngsters to fill out their roster and still have enough cap space to sign a premier free agent this summer.
But there’s another layer to the Hawks’ roster debate: who gets the final spot?
With Carcillo and Mayers signed for next year, there will be pressure on a number of players entering the final year of their respective contracts.
Specifically, Beach has one year left before becoming a restricted free agent. With Shaw, Hayes, Morin and Pirri all seeing NHL ice time before him, and coming back from an injury that cost him most of last year, he’ll have a great deal of pressure to have a great training camp.
Some other prospects will also have an uphill climb this season. Shawn Lalonde, Ryan Stanton and Joe Lavin are all likely to be on the Rockford blue line next season in the final seasons of their respective entry-level contracts.
There will also be a battle in net next season in Rockford. Alex Salak and Alec Richards both have one year left on their deal, and Carter Hutton is a restricted free agent. Adding Mac Carruth to that mix, there are four guys for two roster spots in the AHL. One (Salak) might be headed back to Europe, but that’s still a crowded crease.
We haven’t mentioned Brandon Bollig yet. He and Ben Smith present a couple intriguing restricted free agent cases for management. Will the Hawks give another year or two to either of them after each provided some value during a playoff series? Or will they be casualties of a filled roster?
The evolution of this lineup will only continue as trades come into play and the new CBA is (hopefully) finalized. But what has become clear is the cap flexibility Stan Bowman will have to make the Hawks a Cup contender at this time next year.