The Chicago Blackhawks just committed $168 million over the next eight years to two players in a league with a hard salary cap — and it’s far from an awful move.
In fact, it should end up being a really good move.
That’s because we’re talking about Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, two of the best hockey players in the world, who were both given eight-year, $84 million contract extensions on Tuesday. The matching deals ensure Chicago’s power duo stays in the Windy City through the 2022-23 season.
In the process, though, the Blackhawks have committed a lot of money — and more importantly, salary cap space — to just two players. There’s no denying the elite status of both Toews and Kane, but there’s also no denying the restrictions of the NHL salary cap. The deals won’t count against the cap until next season, but the combined $21 million cap hit would be 30 percent of the Hawks’ cap total if they kicked in this season. That’s kind of a lot, especially for two players.
It’s assumed that the salary cap will increase in the coming years, however, especially given the NHL’s new Canadian TV deal. Regardless, general manager Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks hockey ops people might have to get a little creative. Even if the cap does climb for 2015-16, Chicago would have nearly $50 million in cap space committed to seven players, assuming they don’t make any roster changes. They might have to make some of those changes, though, in order to facilitate roster flexibility.
The good news for the Blackhawks, should they decide to put a dent into this veteran core, is that this is something they’ve done before. The Blackhawks had to sell off pieces after winning the 2010 Stanley Cup. Three years later, they won another Stanley Cup and this past season they were within one game of getting back to the Stanley Cup Final. They have shown in the past that they’re able to adapt and change on the fly, which might be the biggest key to survival in the NHL’s salary cap era.
Even if the Blackhawks have a (relative) down year or two, they still have one of the best cores in hockey with Toews, Kane and defenseman Duncan Keith signed through 2023. If they can find a way to keep D-man Nick Leddy around, that’s another solid core player for the future. Teuvo Teravainen — a budding star in the eyes of many — is on his entry-level contract through 2017. They also have a competent goalie in Corey Crawford signed through 2020.
But it all starts with Toews and Kane, and they’re now locked up for almost an entire decade. Toews is 26. Kane is 25. Their prime hockey-playing years will be played in Chicago, and that’s far from a bad thing for the Blackhawks. Are the cap numbers high? Yeah, maybe. But they will look better as the years pass, and generally, you have to pay money in order to retain elite talent.
The Blackhawks are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender for at least one more season. What they did Tuesday should keep them at or near that status for a long time to come.