Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Chicago Blackhawks - Money City Maniacs

Sloan is a fantastic band from the Canadian maritime city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. They have played a number of indie facilities and headlined rock shows across this great land, and they have a pile of recognizable hits. Perhaps none is more recognizable than their first single from their 1998 album Navy Blues entitled "Money City Maniacs". It appears, though, that one NHL team is trying to acquire that name by handing out massive contracts this week. The Chicago Blackhawks wrapped up another piece of their team long-term today as Niklas Hjalmarsson was signed to a five-year, $20.5 million contract.

Hjalmarsson, at age 26, averages in at $4.1 million per year which isn't too extravagant when you consider he had ten points and a career-high +15 last season en route to the Stanley Cup. But one has to be concerned with the contracts piling up for next season already when you look at the numbers. With Hjalmarsson's and Corey Crawford's new contracts on the books for next season, the Blackhawks have 14 players signed and delivered for 2014-15. If the salary cap goes up - which is expcected - the Blackhawks will have some wiggle room to try and squeeze eight more players under their cap. As it stands, though, they have just over $4.5 million for next season to spend!

No one will argue with the $23.775 million committed to Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp. Without those four players, that's the vast majority of Chicago's offence gone, and one would be able to justify the salaries paid to these players based upon performance. But do you think the Blackhawks may be regretting the $4 million annual cap hit held by Brandon Bollig? They'll never admit it, but they probably could have signed him for less if they really wanted. For $4 million a season, though, Bollig better be the second-coming of a Cam Neely-esque power forward.

And that leads me back to questioning the $6 million per season Corey Crawford was given based on his one good playoff season. If the cap is to jump to, say, $70 million next year, the Blackhawks have $10 million to play with when it comes to filling eight roster spots. That's not a lot of room to bring in a solid, two-way player for a third line or a rugged defenceman to clear the front of the net. So again, I'm not sure why $6 million annually for Crawford was necessary.

If he signs for $5 million annually, that's more room for better players in front of him. It's this thought that I always struggle with when I see players who get massive contracts. It's not one player who wins a Stanley Cup. Heck, ask Henrik Lundqvist how that's been working out for him. No, it's a team that does, and the best team always seems to have a fairly balanced lineup in terms of their salaries.

In 2008-09, the Pittsburgh Penguins were 14th in average cap hits when they won the Stanley Cup. In 2009-10, Chicago was 13th in overall salary spending. The Bruins bumped that overall spending up to seventh when they won the Stanley Cup a couple of years ago, and Los Angeles followed suit in 2011-12 when they won the Stanley Cup. Chicago's victory last season saw them sitting at fifth overall in spending when they won the Stanley Cup. If we follow the trend, perhaps the idea is to spend more to win?

If that's the case, Chicago may not be the favorite to win this season despite locking up their core. They currently sit tenth in spending, trailing teams such as Montreal, Anaheim, and Edmonton, so maybe spending for the sake of spending isn't what we should be looking at when trying to decipher whether or not Chicago is doing right in handing out all this cash. Teams that are near the bottom of the top-third of teams seemingly do better than those that spend to the cap and those that stay above the ceiling.

If that holds true, Chicago has the pieces of its core in place in order to remain competitive. Credit Stan Bowman for his cap management skills because Chicago could be the new Detroit in terms of long-term success over a sustained period of time.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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