Yesterday, the Blackhawks announced a three-year, $9.25M extension with center Marcus Kruger.
Lots of fans were rightfully thrilled by the move. While Kruger isn’t a significant contributor on the offensive end of the ice, he’s one of the best penalty kill specialists in the NHL and has become terrific at the dot. The fact that he’s been out as long as he has and the the Hawks rank near the bottom of the NHL in penalty killing isn’t merely coincidence.
But there are others who have questions about the dollar amount, and the long term ramifications of the deal on the Blackhawks’ roster.
So let’s look ahead at the impact Kruger’s deal could have on the 2016-17 Blackhawks.
According to General Fanager, the Blackhawks have 25 contracts on the books for the 2016-17 season. At the NHL level, Chicago has 15 contracts and $64,158,460 obligated for next season. That number includes $100k in retained salary for David Rundblad and $3.05M in buried salary for Bryan Bickell, but does not include $1.125M in retained salary for Rob Scuderi.
It also does not include any bonuses for rookies. According to Scott Powers in October, Artemi Panarin can make an additional $2.575 million in bonuses for production this season (and he’s well on his way to earning most, if not all, of his bonuses).
So there’s a lot of money on the table already for next season – a cause for some concern.
Then there are the in-house free agents. At the NHL level, the Hawks have a number of free agents coming up this year.
- RFA – Andrew Shaw, Richard Panik, Dennis Rasmussen
- UFA – Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise, Christian Ehrhoff, Michal Rozsival, Tomas Fleischmann, Brandon Mashinter
The Hawks have an even bigger number of free agents coming up in the AHL ranks.
- RFA – Viktor Svedberg, Mark McNeill, Ryan Haggerty, Garret Ross, Mac Carruth, Mathieu Brisebois, Matt Fraser
- UFA – Michael Leighton, Kyle Cumiskey, Tim Jackman, Jay Harrison, Drew MacIntyre, Mike Liambas
I think we can safely assume almost all of the unrestricted free agents in the system will be gone next year. One decision will have to be made in net for the IceHogs as Leighton and MacIntyre will be unrestricted and Carruth restricted, but the rest of this year’s crop of free agents appear to be either too old or too expensive to retain.
A couple names worth considering, however, are the two forwards the Hawks acquired from Montreal. Fleischmann, 31, is playing on a one-year deal with a cap hit of only $750k. Weise, 27, is coming off a two-year deal with a $1.025M cap hit. If either of them was willing to come back at a comparable cap number, it’s possible one/both could come back.
The elephant in the room is Andrew Shaw, though.
Shaw, 24, is making $2M this year and has not only been a versatile player for the Blackhawks, but a fan favorite. Before the 2014-15 season Shaw signed a tw0-year bridge deal to stay in Chicago and has been a solid contributor during his Chicago career.
In 59 career postseason games, Shaw has scored 12 goals and added 17 assists; he has been an important part of two Stanley Cup championship teams. Over this last two regular seasons – 146 games entering Wednesday – Shaw has registered 26 goals and 31 assists.
So the multi-million dollar question is: does Kruger’s contract mean the end of Shaw’s days in Chicago?
We won’t know that until Stan Bowman begins waving his magic wand around the NHL Draft in late June. Over the last four seasons, Bowman has been able to come up with cap space through a variety of creative circumstances. He has also stockpiled a tremendous collection of assets that have enabled the Blackhawks to pull the trigger on deals to get the likes of Antoine Vermette, Ladd, Weise and Fleischmann.
Chicago has prospects coming.
- Ryan Hartman has a similar profile to Shaw and Weise. The Hawks’ first round pick in 2013, Hartman has 32 points and 103 penalty minutes in 53 games with Rockford this year. He has a cap hit of $863,333 through the 2017-18 season and has appeared in eight NHL contests with the Hawks.
- Vince Hinostroza is coming as well. With Rockford this year, Hinostroza has 34 points in 48 games and has also appeared in seven games with the Blackhawks. He has a $717,500 cap hit through the 2017-18 season.
- Kyle Baun is also in Rockford this year. Though he has been limited to six points in 25 games, Chicago just gave him a two-year contract extension that carries a $625k cap hit – down from $858,750 on the entry level deal he signed as a college free agent with the Hawks last year.
There are college players who might pick up their entry level deals soon as well.
- Tyler Motte is coming, too. Motte, who turns 21 on March 10, is having an incredible junior season at Michigan. He leads the nation with 29 goals and his 48 points in 32 games ranks fifth in the NCAA this season.
- Nick Schmaltz is on his way soon. Even though he missed some time to represent the USA at the World Juniors, Schmaltz has produced 34 points in 29 games and recently lit the internet on fire with a crazy goal while leading North Dakota to a big victory against Western Michigan.
The cupboard is far from empty for the Blackhawks, and Bowman has a track record of keeping the team at or near the top of the NHL since 2012 – after he rebuilt the organization’s prospect pool on the fly while trying to compete in the wake of burning the roster to the ground after the 2010 Cup win.
Will Shaw be around next year? Maybe. Maybe not. But let’s enjoy the hell out of this roster between now and, hopefully, the end of June and let Bowman do his job.