The list of top defensemen heading towards restricted free agency is an impressive one, but was cut by one recently when the Los Angeles Kings locked up Jack Johnson with a seven-year extension.
While Johnson’s cap number wasn’t outrageous ($4.36M), the term certainly got the attention of agents for players like Chicago’s Brent Seabrook, Atlanta’s Dustin Byfuglien, Nashville’s Shea Weber and Johnson’s teammate in LA, Drew Doughty.
Each of these top rear guards is in a different situation with their teams, and while the assumption is that each receives an extension, nothing is guaranteed.
And, in the case of Seabrook, it might not be the best financial decision for the organization.
Unlike Atlanta, Nashville and even Los Angeles, Chicago’s situation on their blue line is both crowded and expensive. With Brian Campbell and Duncan Keith both locked up for most of the next decade, the Hawks have already allocated major resources to their defensemen.
Add Niklas Hjalmarsson’s deal to the mix, and the Blackhawks have almost 30 percent of their payroll locked up for at least three more years on the blue line.
The Seabrook decision for the Blackhawks could be another emotional powderkeg following last summer’s exodus.
Especially if a long-term deal isn’t the right decision.
Consider last summer’s situation with Hjalmarsson. With 111 regular season games and 21 points on his resume, former Blackhawks defenseman and current San Jose General Manager Doug Wilson extended an offer sheet to Hjalmarsson that was surprising.
At four years and $14M, that offer sheet ultimately led to the Blackhawks choosing between a 23-year old defenseman and the goalie that won the Stanley Cup. That, and the $3.5M cap number appeared to throw a monkey wrench into the futures of teams trying to lock up players like Doughty, Johnson, Weber, Byfuglien and Seabrook.
Johnson’s new cap number likely calmed the fears of many GMs, but the term won’t help.
And if someone like Wilson will throw $3.5M at Hjalmarsson’s resume, how much would a rival potentially offer a 26-year-old with a Stanley Cup and Olympic championship on top of nearly 500 NHL games on his?
Chicago’s position becomes more intriguing because of their organizational depth. The United Center fans have already seen Nick Leddy, just the first of a number of young prospects coming up through the Hawks organization. With youngsters like Dylan Olsen, Shawn Lalonde and Brian Connelly skating for their AHL affiliate, the Blackhawks have a stable of young rear guards coming soon that will be fighting for limited roster spots.
Seabrook could be a popular commodity for teams to consider, and the compensation might be at least intriguing to the Blackhawks. Based on 2010’s compensation structure, a team signing Seabrook for a cap number north of $3M would owe the Blackhawks a first and third round pick; if the offer was north of $4.65M per, Chicago would receive first, second and third round picks.
However, while someone like Olsen might eventually be able to replace Seabrook, the likelihood that he could do that in October 2011 is doubtful. The location of most Blackhawks prospects isn’t the only thing they share in common: they’re all babies.
Olsen, Lalonde and Leddy are all only 20, while Connelly, 24, is the elder statesman. Leddy, Connelly and Ivan Vishnevskiy are also puck-moving defensemen, all listed as slender skaters under six feet tall. Not exactly Seabrook-like.
What might be the best scenario for the Blackhawks would be taking Seabrook to arbitration.
Placing Seabrook into a pool that includes the deals of Johnson and Calgary’s Mark Giordano, an arbitrator would likely give Seabrook a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $4.5M. That cap number would work financially for Chicago while buying them one more year to not only continue the development of their top prospects, but also the ability to find a potential trade partner for either Seabrook or the more expensive Campbell.
Chicago’s front office has been quiet – too quiet – regarding negotiations with Seabrook. Their cap situation is well known and GM Stan Bowman has done an excellent job of bolstering the future through trades. Because of the players matriculating towards the NHL, Seabrook’s future in Chicago might be shorter than many fans want.