The Blackhawks salary cap fears appear to be in the rear view mirror for the time being, but there’s a decision coming in 12 months that already has many fans concerned.
Patrick Sharp has just one season left on his contract, and obviously everyone in the city – from the fans to Blackhawks management – wants him to stay in Chicago.
But the future of Sharp is a clouded set of circumstances.
The NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement ends after the 2011-12 season, at the same time as Sharp’s deal with the Hawks. While the NFL and, soon, the NBA deal with ugly lockouts, the NHL’s situation appears to be dramatically different than the other two leagues.
While the NBA is reporting that 22 of 30 teams lost money this season, and the NFL has attendance issues in a number of markets, the NHL is trending in the opposite direction. League revenue is skyrocketing, and a new television deal gives the league exposure and income its never seen in the United States.
Some Hawks fans have started to fear a similar fate for Sharp as other popular players from the championship roster felt last summer. Those fears are naive; the circumstances in Chicago are vastly different now.
The core is signed and role players on the team aren’t making $3M any longer. There are affordable prospects with legitimate talent matriculating up through the organization. And the one-time ”kids” are the leaders of the next generation of Blackhawks.
As the Blackhawks make a decision with Sharp, they’ll obviously need to have a better understanding or what a new CBA could look like, and how much they can reasonably expect the cap to increase over the next few years.
With news that Buffalo extended forward Drew Stafford for four years at $4M per on Friday, Sharp has every right to expect his next deal to be a healthy raise from his current $3.9M cap number.
But until the league has framework of a new CBA at least being discussed, it’s impossible for the Blackhawks to look into a crystal ball and know how long, and for how much, they’ll be able to keep Sharp around.
When his contract expires, Sharp will be 30 years old, and will be approaching 400 career points in the NHL. He has been a leading scorer on the team for the over five seasons, consistently a 60-plus point performer.
There are two events, which will happen simultaneously, that will play a major role in the Blackhawks dealings with Sharp.
In the summer of 2015, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will become unrestricted free agents.
That three year window is the most likely timeframe for any new deal for Sharp. He would be 34 years old that summer, and would need to make decisions regarding the futures of the two most important draft picks in the last 20 years of the franchise.