Cup Vs. Cap: What’s Next For the Chicago Blackhawks?

 

Antti Niemi savors his first Stanley Cup. Are he and the Blackhawks poised to win more?

The confetti has barely been swept up from the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup Championship parade, and already salary-dumping scenarios for the Hawks are being concocted. While Islanders great Mike Bossy suggested the Hawks can become a dynasty, some observers say the party’s already over as The Cap, in their eyes, crushes all hope.

Where the truth is, perhaps, only Chicago GM Stan Bowman knows. At least, Hawks fans hope he does.

Based on his statements, Bowman has made the salary cap issue a priority for some time, and is weighing his options. “There’s not one way to approach it. We’ve been preparing for this for a long time. It’s not something that caught us off-guard. We’d love to have everybody back, but that’s just not a possibility. So, we’ve got to move on.”

That said, where are the Blackhawks now, and what might the direction of the team be in the off-season?

The quandary starts with figuring out what ‘The Cap’ really is. The two Internet sites devoted to monitoring NHL teams’ cap-related activity, and often quoted in discussions of the subject are NHLNumbers.com and CapGeek.com. These offer different versions of teams’ budgets and the attendant restrictions.

Attempts to explain the complexities of negotiating the salary cap, and the management thereof, are often less than clear. Teams are allowed to spend a maximum amount over the course of a season; however, this not a hard number, but a total amount calculated according to the days that players actually spend on the active roster. So while the amount of the annual payroll constitutes an overall parameter, the cap hit is revised on a daily basis.

When Stan Bowman shuffled players like Jack Skille, Brian Bickell and Jacob Dowell in and out of the AHL farm team in Rockford this year, it was noted that every day they were off the roster produced incremental savings that eventually added up.

The complexity of the calculation was apparently also a factor in why Bowman didn’t replace injured players with ‘rentals’ at the trade deadline; and affected the status of players like Dave Bolland and Adam Burish relative to Long Term Injury Reserve, which also affects cap fluctations.

The Blackhawks’ announcement this past year of the signing of their marquee stars, Captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith to extensions, touched off a flurry of forecasts. Canada’s TSN network, in particular, was certain that ‘tagging issues’ (the impact that future monies committed have on current cap levels) would scupper the Hawks, and that players Patrick Sharp and Brent Sopel would be traded. TSN fueled the rumor mills accordingly. However, when nothing of the sort happened, TSN maven Bob McKenzie had to wipe the egg off his face, admitting on Twitter he didn’t really understand how tagging worked.

In 2009-10, the Blackhawks, according to the information available from NHLNumbers.com, played with a roster that had a total cap hit of $62.9 million dollars. But if the so-called ‘cap ceiling’ for 2009-10 was $56.8 million, the number most often referred to in the hockey media, how does that add up?

And if, as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman suggested recently, the cap number is rising for next season by two to two and half million, what is the real operational ceiling for salaries and bonuses for 2010-11?

Depending on who you believe, the budgetary guidelines for 2010-11, may be anywhere from about just under fifty-nine to over sixty-four million. This presumably includes what NHLNumbers.com and CapGeek.com, refer to as the ‘bonus cushion’.

Unless one has access to the proprietary information of NHL GMs, the guessing game on cap management is just that.

There is no question the executive branch in Chicago has plenty of work to do. Both Hawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz and Stan Bowman have made it clear, for many months now, the Blackhawks have adopted a philosophy of securing a core group, while, as Wirtz said in an interview in the Chicago Sun Times, “filling in the rest of the roster.”

Rather than attempting to predict how the Blackhawks may re-tool their lineup for next year, let’s examine the assets they have on hand; the value of these assets in potential transactions; and the impact these moves may have on the performance of the team.

One of the keynotes of the Chicago Blackhawks’ approach to developing its players is versatility. Coach Joel Quenneville sprinkles his statements with the phrases “plays in all situations”, “Lots of options”, and “different looks”.

In practice, the movement of Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg from wing to center, and Dustin Byfuglien between the defense and forward positions provided some of the more dramatic examples.

This emphasis on versatility was demonstrated as Quenneville shuffled his lines, defense pairs, and even his goaltenders, throughout the season. In the playoffs, he didn’t hesitate to switch up his combinations while facing different opponents. This earned him some criticism, but with a Stanley Cup now in the house, the nay-saying is muted.

Another issue that was raised during the season, especially in view of the targeting of star players by other teams, was that of the need for physical players. The acquisition of the veteran Nick Boynton for playoff duty; the signing of prospects like Brendan Bollig and Ryan Stanton; and the speculation about up and coming agitator Kyle Beach as a latter-day Al Secord, combining scoring punch with throwing a punch, all spoke to that issue.

How do the Hawks see the development of the team, relative to their stated objective of remaining a contender for years to come?

We have already seen how the coaching staff has grown the talent on hand.

Patrick Kane has substantially improved his game, as has Dave Bolland, and Dustin Byfuglien; Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg have gone from being spare parts on their former teams to clutch performers. Youngsters like Niklas Hjalmarsson (becoming a legitimate Top 4 d-man) and Troy Brouwer (scoring over 20 goals last year) have become valuable components. The previously unknown Antti Niemi, who wrested the number one job from the highly paid Cristobal Huet, is the first Finnish netminder, and one of a handful of rookies, to win a Stanley Cup.

It’s reasonable to expect these players to continue their improvement.

The Hawks are built for the future: the majority of the team is less than 27 years of age. Barely into their twenties, Conn Smythe and Olympic Gold medalist Toews, and silver Olympian Kane are already all-world. Being signed long term along with Norris Trophy nominee Keith, and cornerstones like Hossa and Campbell secure for years to come, those five alone are a starting line-up as impressive as any in the NHL. Backstopped by Niemi, the Hawks have a solid core around which to continue as contenders.

Beyond that, Chicago’s depth is cited frequently. When asked why the Flyers were beaten by the Hawks, Philly captain Mike Richards was blunt: “They rolled four lines. We could only roll three.”

The Blackhawks being very conscious of marketing their players to their audience, it’s probably no accident that the ‘Black Aces’ (players brought up for the playoffs who are held in reserve) were introduced individually by former Hawks star, and current TV broadcaster Ed Olczyk during the Cup parade on June 12th.

Among the prospects who were singled out: defensemen Brian Connelly and Shawn Lalonde; forwards Bickell, Dowell and Beach; and goalie Corey Crawford. Are these kids being groomed for a shot at the big club next year?

During post-victory interviews with ESPN Chicago and the Chicago Daily Herald, Stan Bowman made no secret of his intention to make changes. The players concurred.

With Cam Barker’s $3 million leaving in the trade that brought Kim Johnsson, albeit briefly, and more importantly, former first round pick defenseman Nick Leddy, from Minnesota, Bowman began the process of paring down the salary mass while migrating the team to a more equitable balance between premium priced and less expensive players.

It should be noted here that Bowman’s management style represents a significant shift from that of his predecessor Dale Tallon, who spent liberally on free agents, many of whom did not deliver full value. Adrian Aucoin, Martin Lapointe, Robert Lang have already been forgotten. Martin Havlat and Nikolai Khabibulin also ate up massive chunks of salary cap, yet were uneven in the overall picture.

The Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet contracts were the most severely criticized signings, and may have contributed to Tallon’s eventual exit from the GM chair.

The resolution of Huet’s situation appears imminent. Says Bowman: “Obviously, the goaltending is a situation we’re going to have to look at and figure something out. But we’re going to work on that. We’ll get it straightened out by October.”

Hawks radio announcer John Wiedeman seemed to concede, in a recent interview with The NHL Network, that Huet may have played his last days in Chicago.

The elimination of his $5.625 million from the cap number could be a foregone conclusion.

Whether than means sending the French-born goalie to the minors, waiving him, attempting to arrange a transfer back to the European Leagues or even the KHL, remains to be seen.

The impact of Cristobal Huet’s presumed subtraction is significant. NHLNumbers.com pegs the current cap hit for the Hawks at $57.56 million; post-Huet, that hit is 51.95. If the cap rises by two million or more, and the operational number is equal or superior to the 2009-10 number of $62.99MM, that would already give Stan Bowman anywhere from eleven to thirteen million dollars to work with.

Meanwhile, Campbell has shown he is a central cog in the Hawk machine, and posted an impressive plus-11 during the playoffs, setting up a number of game-changing goals, specifically Patrick Kane’s OT Cup winner.

Much is made of Marian Hossa’s contract; but the annual cap hit ($5.233MM) is in fact lower than that of Havlát’s previous $6MM deal. Few would dispute Hossa is a major upgrade.

Using the online calculator at CapGeek.com, one can plug in any number of potential rosters for one’s team.

Doing the exercise with the Blackhawks in mind, a variety of results is achieved. Depending on what cap ceiling number one accepts as being credible, the cost-cutting transactions assumed necessary to assemble a 20-22 man roster can be easily illustrated.

Running the Cap Geek calculator, using a number equal to the $63 million the Hawks operated with last year, very few changes were shown as being necessary. In that theoretical model, Niemi’s and Hjalmarsson’s salaries were adjusted to $2.5 and $2 million respectively; prospects like Kyle Beach and Brian Bickell filled spots left by departing free agents.

In a ‘worst case’ scenario, what does Stan Bowman really need to do? Would the trading of a Sharp or Versteeg cripple the Hawks? Given that they were once deemed expendable, yet became Cup winners in Chicago, it is still possible they could be replaced.

In the business of hockey, sentiment gives way to the bottom line.

For those who want to slice and dice the roster, many hours can be spent on sites like Cap Geek. These virtual mechanisms are, at best, approximations, but they begin to give us an idea of just how difficult—or easy, depending on your point of view—it is to be a GM.

In the real world of possible trades, Stan Bowman is in the best posture. Every one of his players is a Stanley Cup winner, and other teams are always in the market for Stanley Cup winners.

Names mentioned include Sharp, Versteeg, Byfuglien, Kopecky and Campbell. Their annual salaries range from one point two million, to seven million. Looking at the money paid to similar players at their positions, all of them, even Campbell, are in the range of the current market price (witness similar numbers for d-men like Chara, Niedermayer,Bouwmeester, Boyle, Phaneuf, Jovanovski and Redden, to name a few). To underscore that, all one has to do is look at how the overheated UFA market has driven GMs to shell out major dollars and no trade clauses.

Teams looking for Cup-winning talent along with cost certainty can look to Stan Bowman as a trading partner. Any one of the aforementioned players would have an immediate and positive impact.

Would the Hawks be ready and able to deal for first or second picks in the upcoming draft?

The 2010 crop of UFAs is being described as ‘thin’ by a number of observers including Yvon Pedneault, recognized in Canada and Quebec as one of the sport’s most eminent analysts.

In his recent radio broadcast on Corus Sports in Montreal, Pedneault asserted that the discussions between General Managers have already been taking place and that we can expect substantial trading leading up to the amateur draft and free agent market, both just two weeks away.

Lest anyone argue that the Blackhawks front office is in ‘panic mode’, the fact is that the cap ceiling for 2010-11, whatever it might be, does not come into effect until opening day in October. Between now and then, there are more than three months for wheeling and dealing.

Contrary to the cynical view of the Chicago Blackhawks being a ‘one hit wonder’, the current situation reflects the reality of change as part and parcel of professional team sports. As has been proven time and time again, the sum of the parts is always superior to the individual.

The Blackhawks showed that a team, playing within a well-thought out system, and each man executing his task, can make its way to the top. Staying there is another matter; succeeding as back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions, is something no team has done in more than a decade.

The last team to do so, the Red Wings, and the one previous, the Penguins, were led by a certain William “Scotty” Bowman. That same Mr. Bowman, already inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Builder, is now advising the Chicago Blackhawks.

Bowman may say publicly that he stays in the background, but as Sun Media reported during the playoffs, the elder Bowman is actively involved in strategy sessions. Son Stan, named for the Cup Scotty won nine times as a coach also acknowledges his influence. “I mean, why wouldn’t you take his advice?” says Stan.

Hockey’s longest serving writer and commentator, Stan Fischler, who was present when the Hawks won the 1961 Cup, refutes the cynics. “This team has better balance, but not Glenn Hall.” He cites three reasons why the Blackhawks will continue to be a force: “One, they won the Cup. Two, they have a smart front office which knows what to do. Three, Scotty.”

Chicago’s organization seems to have taken a few pages from the Scotty Bowman book of team building. Like the Montreal Canadiens of his era, the team is stockpiling young talent that can be slotted in if and when roster players need to be replaced. Like the Detroit Red Wings during Bowman’s tenure, the Hawks are instituting a ‘system-first’ approach that allows players to be interchangeable components in a method that maximizes their skills.

As for his perceived surplus of talent, and the challenge of making the numbers work, Bowman’s typically unruffled demeanor is evident: “There’s a lot of things that are going to have to work out, but it’s certainly a good problem to have. We’re Stanley Cup champs and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

The odds-makers already have the Hawks as favorites to repeat. Bodog, the leading hockey betting site in Canada, has posted Chicago at 11-2 to win the Cup next year.

Toe Blake once said, “Predictions are for gypsies”, but it’s a good bet the off-season for Blackhawks fans will be as exciting as the season they just witnessed. It might also be a good bet that the Blackhawks will be as exciting, and successful, a team next year, as this.

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About the Author: David Morris' hockey writing has been featured at KuklasKorner.com and Chicago Sports Then & Now. He is also the North American correspondent for leading Swiss hockey site, Planete Hockey.

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  1. Allan Martel says:

    This is Mr. Morris’ most interesting article to date describing clearly the various elements at play in deciding what course of action to take as the Hawk’s GM over the summer.

    If I understand this correctly, the “problem” is not as bad as has been stated elsewhere; the solutions are multi-faceted as there are several tradeable and (perhaps) expendable players; most importantly, the junior cupboard is filling up nicely giving several other options within the system context of Scotty Bowman teams of legend in the near future to the team.

    It is tempting to believe that the Hawks can repeat this victory given that I believe they won without even firing on all cylinders. If I am right, then the Hawks will win their division next year just after Christmas.

    Finally, a personal observatiopn – the “system” approach long favoured by Scotty Bowman is vastly more sophisticated in its design and execution that the truculence focused, build’em from the goal on out approach of the League’s #1 blowhard in Toronto.

    Imagine selecting as your new captain a prima donna player with a history of dressing room squabbles. If Dr. Seuss were still alive, he’d write a hockey-focused book titled “Phaneuf lays an egg”. The Leaf Nation will soon be in shell shock.

  2. vito says:

    Dave, How do you not work for TSN? Your knowledge of the NHL is IMO, the best. I do hope Ladd, Hammer, and Niemi stay and as far as Versteeg, Sharp and Buff I guess 1 or 2 of them have have to go. I just hope the Hawks don’t struggle next year with all the celebrating and changes this offseason. Maybe a few more surprise teams like Coyotes last year making it harder for the Hawks to make the playoffs or repeat next year. Hopefully Hawks don’t suffer any injuries next year too. I just don’t want to see the same happen to the Hawks that happened to the White Sox in ’05 by winning the World Series and not making the playoffs the following season but having a good enough record but coming up short.

    • Allan Martel says:

      vito worries that the Coyotes might prove worrisome for the Hawks next season and he is right as this is a very real possibility.

      In my opinion, there are teams waxing and waning in the NHL.

      Those on the upswing include the Coyotes, the Hawks, the Bruins and Tampa Bay.

      On the wane are the Senators, the Sharks, the Wings,the Ducks, and the Rangers.

      Mystery teams include the Oilers, the Canucks, the Habs and the Sabres.

      As to why David Morris doesn’t work for TSN, would Michael Schumacher ever consider driving NASCAR?

    • Dave Morris says:

      Vito> grazie tanto, signore. The compliment is appreciated…and thanks as always for reading.

      In the West, the competition is very close, but the Blackhawks have improved their performance over the past two seasons even as other teams have progressed.

      The decisions being made right now, are probably keeping in mind that the talent base has to be constantly renewed.

      If it means certain players need to be moved, Stan Bowman will have most probably considered all the pros and cons.

      There are so many talented prospects nowadays, and there are more and more kids in junior and college who are ready–or almost ready–to step up to the NHL.

      With the Blackhawks being a young team, they should be able to weather the injury factor.

      Also, rather than stacking the deck to win short-term, Rocky Wirtz mandated his brain trust to construct the team for continued success.

      The Wirtz Companies have an approach to doing business that works. In the interviews he has given, Rocky has said he applies many of those successful business principles to the management of the team.

      He believes the Blackhawks should be a force to reckon with beyond the year, and he’s instructed the executive group and the team to deliver at the box office and on the ice.

      It’s a tall order, but long time Hawks fans like yourself have every reason to be optimistic.

      In the meantime, enjoy the Stanley Cup…the toughest Championship to win in all of professional sports.

  3. Patrick says:

    Dave – great article. I’ve been hunting for this type of Blackhawk news, and the Dude abides. Gracias.

    Yep, I’ve been doing the “roto GM” thing and I was wondering, do you think the Oliers would trade the 1st pick? I think I have a deal that would meet everyone’s needs. It’s that time of year again.

    See you at the FF, and back here now. Keep up the good words. It’s good to be rooting for the kings, and not of the LA variety…

    • Dave Morris says:

      Patrick>thanks again…the idea of the Hawks trading an established player like a Sharp/Versteeg/etc, or a package with players/prospects for a first rounder is certainly worth considering.

      The Blackhawks could use a big center (i.e. a Jordan Staal type).

      Is there someone like that available in the upcoming draft?

      At Hockey Independent, the writers (myself included) will be looking at the McKeen’s Hockey 2010 draft guide for clues.

      If the Hawks could engineer a trade that brings more young talent to Chicago…things could get interesting.

      Kids like Matt Duchene and Jordan Eberle are impact players, and that kind of player could fit right in.

      Florida, Atlanta, Edmonton, Columbus, Minnesota, for example, are credible trading partners.

      • Patrick says:

        Dave – if I were GM of the Hawks, I would want to try to acquire a center and I think that the best one is most definitely Tyler Sequin. Is he huge? No, but he’s good and he’d be an excellent #2 Center for the Hawks for years (and he’d be cheap for the first three years at least). Here are my thoughts on the players that have been linked to the rumor mill:

        Patrick Sharp – too valuable as a two-way forward and he’s signed for a relatively cheap-to-value contract for the next two years. Yes, he’ll have to play center for at least one more year for the Hawks, but he’s the ultimate team player and is good wherever he is.

        Brian Campbell – expensive, but very valuable. Once he rejoined the Hawks during the playoffs, they were a different (and better) team. He has a lot left in the tank and I think he’ll have an even better third year with the Hawks.

        Kris Versteeg – slick, fast and of so maddening. He’s pretty versatile but baring injury, he’ll only be a third-liner with the Hawks, and he can’t play with Kane (they overlap too much, and Kane is supremely better). His contract makes him replaceable with potentially minimal goal fall off from the past (not the future).

        Buff – what will the Hawks have during the upcoming regular season, the dominant force that pushed through the last three rounds of the playoffs, or the guy who seemed uninterested and didn’t score 20 goals on the season? Yea, he’s young, huge, and somewhat versatile, but does he have more value in a trade than he does to the Hawks? The big question is, could he be replaced on the top line by an improving Brouwer or even Beech?

        Dave Bolland – yes, he’s a high-paid third line center, but when he’s healthy he is pest-extraordinaire, has the heart of a lion, and he can score goals (he had 8 in the playoffs, when Sharp and Buff lead the team with 11 – not too shabby). Sure, he could be a better playmaker and finisher, but center is the hardest forward spot to fill, and he’s signed for four more years, so he has that edge over everyone else.

        Sopel – I think he has value, but I don’t think he’s going anywhere unless is absolutely needed.

        So, this is what I would propose:

        Buff, Versteeg, Huet and the Hawks first-rounder for the #1 pick and Khabibulin. Okay, I said it, so what does it do for everyone?

        Oliers:
        They get two top-six forwards who they can plug into their lineup immediately and see improvement, rather than going through more rebuilding. They also get a goalie who can start for them and has only two more years left on his deal for the same money that Khabby has for three (both had equal troubles over the course of this year). They also get a pick to continue the ongoing rebuilding.

        Hawks:
        $8MM in net cap relief and a franchise #2 center, kind of like the Pens have with Crosby and Malkin. While a bit injury-prone in his old age, they also pick up a less-expensive #1B goalie who is liked in the Hawks dressing room and could use a change of scenery himself. True, the Hawks may be over-paying here a bit, and they lose two strong forwards, but that was going to happen anyway so while not sell high when you have replaceable pieces that can step in, and also build for the future?

        I know, it won’t happen, but I think that this deal has its merits and could be switched to a different team in the top-10 of the draft, but the Hawks need a center int he pipeline, and not necessarily another D-man.

        BTW, I think I’d do this deal with the Avs, changing the pick to Duchene and the goalie to Budjai, but I don’t think they’d be crazy enough to do it, and the Hawks could use a year of cap relief, which is why trading for a top draft pick is more enticing to me.

        • Dave Morris says:

          Patrick>interesting thoughts…thanks for these.

          You’re right on about the value that Versteeg and Byfuglien would have for any trading partner, not to mention the Oilers.

          Would they give up the number one pick for the package you mention? Hard to say…but possible.

          Byfuglien’s value to the Blackhawks, his improving play and his versatility, may have made him a ‘must have’ in Chicago.

          But as you point out, that also increases his trade value.

          Looking at the Huet/Khabibulin part of that suggested deal you propose, I don’t think there’s any way Stan Bowman wants a now-injury prone, aging goalie at $3.75MM for the next three years.

          But that’s just my opinion.

          Al Cimaglia and I have discussed the Huet situation, and our view seems to be echoed by what’s being said by Bowman and other people close to the Hawks…which would be finding some way for shipping Huet and his contract out of the NHL.

          Unless some team with plenty of cap room can be enticed to take Huet as part of another deal, those would seem to be the only options in that regard.

          To me, a Sharp-plus-prospects deal for Edmonton’s first pick would seem simpler and a win-win for both sides.

          I would also be curious to see what might done with Tampa, or Florida…especially Florida, with the number 3 overall pick.

          Patrick Sharp would be especially valuable to those teams.

          Columbus, looking for a playmaker to pair with Nash, might, with the 4th pick overall, also be a viable partner.

          • Patrick says:

            Dave – I wouldn’t move Sharp – too valuable as a 2nd line center, and a scoring and defensive wing when needed. IMO, Buff can be replaced by Brouwer and/or Beech, but he may be the flavor of the month now, or maybe the year. To me, I would rank the players in order to be moved as follows:

            Versteeg, Buff, Sopel, Campbell, Bolland, Sharp, and you can assume that I’d move Huet under any circumstances, even to Europe for a bag of pucks.

            It’ll certainly be an interesting off season. Please post any and all speculation you hear. Your sources are far and wide, amigo.

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  5. David Brent says:

    “It should be noted here that Bowman’s management style represents a significant shift from that of his predecessor Dale Tallon, who spent liberally on free agents, many of whom did not deliver full value. Adrian Aucoin, Martin Lapointe, Robert Lang have already been forgotten. Martin Havlat and Nikolai Khabibulin also ate up massive chunks of salary cap, yet were uneven in the overall picture.

    The Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet contracts were the most severely criticized signings, and may have contributed to Tallon’s eventual exit from the GM chair.”
    ———————————————————
    I agree with most of what you’ve written, however, being a 20+ year Cubs fan, I know how John McDonough operates, and although it may never be revealed by Tallon himself, the Huet and possibly the Campbell signings are no doubt the work of McDonough. See McDonough pulled the same stunt with the 8 year $136M contract to Alfonso Soriano. This is his way of showing the fans and competition that he’s “serious about winning”. No matter that the Cubs under his watch threw around big money around to overrated or aging or inferior players. Not saying that’s the case with Campbell, but I’d much rather have had Mark Streit at $4M per season than Campbell at $7+M. That would have been $3M the Hawks could have put towards the 2nd line center that they desperately needed last season…imo..and of course could have been $3M that Bowman could use this season. I’m not saying that Campbell sucks or doesn’t have value, he just doesn’t have $7+M value to me for someone who does not possess a very good shot from the point(high and wide all the time) which to me is one of the main reasons why the Hawks’ PP struggles so much.

  6. Dave Morris says:

    @David Brent>I have noticed a number of Hawks fans have a great deal of animosity towards John McDonough.

    I’m not altogether sure why; the fact is, the Blackhawks have gone from being a very wobbly team to a highly profitable Stanley Cup Champion during his time as President. McDonough seems to know his marketing.

    Following the Hawks for fifty years from my own geographically distant vantage points, in my view, the Blackhawk name has never appeared to be stronger.

    That aside, I can’t comment on who made the ultimate decision to sign Campbell AND Huet…but Tallon was held responsible, as one would expect a GM to be.

    There seems to be some very emotional debate about this.

    In any case, Tallon has moved on, and his GM skills will be put to the test in Florida, a problematic franchise for more than a decade.

    As for Campbell, he was paid a premium in an overheated market for defensemen; but his salary is, as I mentioned, in the same range as Bouwmeester, Phaneuf and Jovanovski.

    Those are the risks one takes when signing UFAs who are in great demand.

    I like Mark Streit’s play, having seen him for several years in Montreal; who knows, perhaps Tallon made a pitch for him and didn’t succeed.

    The bottom line is, that the Blackhawks have achieved what they set out to do, and in an extremely short time. Central Division, Western Conference and Stanley Cup Champions all in the same year…money well spent, would you not agree?

    Now comes the next phase of the challenge, which is ensuring perennial contender status. Not easy by any means.

    • David Brent says:

      You can probably draw a line between those who like or dislike McDonough by whether they are a Cubs or White Sox fan. As a Cubs fan we’ve seen what he’s done with the franchise from the mid 80′s until today, from his former Director of Marketing position up to his short run as team president…and a lot of that is the same that he’s done with the Hawks, except for the fact that the Hawks are now consistently good, and that has much more to do with the work that Tallon and his staff did in scouting and drafting, and sure they had a couple easier picks with Toews and Kane, but they did hit on Seabrook and Keith when they were much less “sure things”. The trades for Sharp and Versteeg included as well. Yes McDonough has made the team much more marketable but I don’t care about that. That just means there are fewer tickets for me to purchase at face value, and many more bandwagoners for me to be annoyed by. Free Agents would have come to Chicago because the team is good, the hockey media isn’t as harsh and demanding as other markets, and the city is consistently rated as among the best in livability for large cities…not just because the team is marketable…that’s just a kicker. I highly doubt that Campbell signed here because McDonough was going to parade Hull and Mikita around in a ’57 Chevy, and Patrick Poulin Heritage Night.

      Yes I, as well as many others, did not like how Savard was treated. Yes Coach Q was the better option, but Q was already in house. Savard could have been let go over the summer without making him look like a joke clipping him in the first week, all but making certain he’ll never get the opportunity from another team…and yes I would not be surprised if McDouche is the guy solely responsible for FedEx-Gate. See as Cubs fans know, McDonough doesn’t do criticism and ownership of failure. He arrives when the goings are good.

      I also understand that Campbell is being paid close to the perceived market rate, but I don’t believe in operating under market value when it comes to a cap sport. I’m all about replacement level value…and if given the opportunity I highly doubt Streit would have chosen the Islanders over Chicago…that’s why a move like that reeks of a John McDonough move. That’s how guys like Huet get paid much more than they’re worth. Just because another team exercises a lack of fiscal responsibility doesn’t mean the next team has to follow suit. Cap room varies by each team after all. You know full well the Red Wings would not have made either of those two signings even if they had the cap room. They, like the Red Sox in baseball, set their own market price(see Hudler, Jiri) and if that price is exceeded by competition they move on to the next option or look for other ways to improve the team…ie they need a goalie…they set aside a certain value, if they don’t get their man, then they’ll spend that money on shoring up the defense instead. The Hawks will have to operate closer to these terms in the near future since they won’t have much extra money considering Toews’ $1.2-1.3M Conn Smythe bonus will take up at least half of the new cap escalator. Oh well, the next month or so will be interesting to say the least.

      • David Brent says:

        not to mention that McDonough is seen in similar light to what some fans feel of Eddie O. That if you can’t do anything to further his career, he’s not interested. Two-faced…and by many accounts of lower level people that have worked under McDonough with the Cubs, and a few with the Hawks, not a very good guy either. Chris Block has also pointed that out on more than one occasion with people he knows that have worked for the Hawks.

        • Dave Morris says:

          @David Brent> Again, I get that some fans, like yourself, have a problem with McDonough.

          The politics of the Hawks’ front office are something I have no knowledge of, and therefore don’t discuss.

          My focus is on the where the team is at, relative to hockey matters.

          As for whether John McDonough is ‘a good guy’ or not, I can tell you from having worked with high level executives in major corporations and multinationals, that not all of them are ‘good guys’.

          But that’s business.

          And never having met Mr. McDonough, I do not have any opinion of him as a person.

          Hockey, like all big businesses, is tough and sometimes unpleasant.

          Relative to the subject, you might find former NHL Commissioner Gil Stein’s book, “Power Plays”, interesting reading. Not many ‘good guys’ in that cast of characters.

  7. Mariposa Belle says:

    David – excellent article, some of which we have discussed previously off-line, certainly the goaltending. I would be surprised if Huet is playing in the NHL next season – a ‘trade’ or ‘transfer’ to Europe is the most likely, certainly if the ‘hawks are able to pay part of his salary (I’m not sure if it is permitted, but finer legal minds than mine might sort it out).

    Cap issues are non-issues. The NHL would have to prove a team was over the cap limit and the Commissioner would then levy a penalty. Does one truly believe that the current Commissioner would heavily sanction an organization such as the Blackhawks which, by winning the Ol’ Mug, may have sparked interest in the US (and driven a major US market nuts) in hockey. Bettman may be annoying and resemble Napoleon in stature, but his playbook is strictly Bismarck.

    There will be some tweaks and twists with the roster and as you point out, players with Stanley Cup rings do bring a premium on the trade market. The Bowmans will deal judiciously, there may not be immediate returns, but any moves should be useful in the future.

    Finally, you can’t predict players signing for the ‘home-town discount’ or ‘no-trade clause’ (respect the former – hate the latter). Rocky Wirtz has set the table for players to seriously consider the discount.

    Prost

    David Gill

  8. Dave Morris says:

    Patrick> Sharp. as you say, is definitely one of the Blackhawks’ most valuable players.

    But if another team picking in the top 10 was ready to give up a first round pick for him, would you do that deal?

    • Patrick says:

      Dave – I don’t think I’d do it, but ultimately, I’m not qualified to make that call since I don’t know much about the draftees beyond the top two forwards. Plus, they’d still have to give up one more contract in order to get under the cap, so if you have to do that, package Versteeg and Buff to get more out of the deal.

      The thing that I like about Sharp is his complete game, his versatility, his hockey sense, he’s signed for two more years, he wears the “A” and he’s a good locker room presence. Virtually no holes. Versteeg and Buff on the other hand…

      • Dave Morris says:

        Patrick> Sharp is probably the most sought after Hawk player by other GMs…Edmonton, Boston, Florida, Columbus, who have the top 4 picks, could all use him to bolster their lineups.

        It was rumored this past season that Toronto wanted Sharp.

        Looking at the Draft, here is an excellent rundown of all the particulars from NHL.com:
        http://www.nhl.com/ice/eventhome.htm?location=/draft/2010

        The order of selection is here:
        http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=531426

        The Islanders, Lightning, Hurricanes, Thrashers, Wild and Rangers round out the first ten teams to pick.

        Would, for example, Sharp, Versteeg, Byfuglien or Sopel be a fit on any of those teams?

        One expects Bowman is weighing all of the possible scenarios.

        Don’t forget he also has Niemi and Hjalmarsson as RFA priorities.

        If Sharp brings a top young talent in return while achieving significant cost savings, it might be something Bowman considers.

        Not saying that’s likely, but we’ve seen hockey trades that have surprised us more than once.

        The Hawk trade I remember most vividly was Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield for Pit Martin, Gilles Marotte and Jack Norris.

        Blockbuster trades like that don’t happen often any more, but who knows what will happen this summer?

        Last year we saw Heatley go to San Jose and Kovalchuk to the Devils…few expected that.

        Fasten your chin strap.

  9. Lee Rosenberg says:

    Dave:

    Awesome article, no question the best I’ve read on any blog and I’ve tried to read them all. Rumour has it that the Blackhawks have either signed or will sign Niklas Persson from the Swedish League and the word on him is that he could step right in as a second line center, is a great PK, and is great in the locker room. Again you are the best and i will continue to read your blog not just because you agreed with me most of the time on FF

    • Dave Morris says:

      Lee>thank you sir.

      That news re: Persson is quite intriguing.

      I tend to think that with all his years learning from Sam Pollock, Scotty Bowman acquired a lot of the ‘wheeler-dealer’ tricks that Pollock had mastered.

      In those days, the Canadiens always seemed to have players they could afford to trade because they always had new ones in the pipeline. Notwithstanding their advantage when it came to picking French-Canadian players, the Habs were, at their peak, an example of excellence in asset management.

      Scotty probably took some of that thinking with him to Detroit, and he probably has passed that along to Stan.

      Stan’s first draft and UFA/trading season should be fun to watch.

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      If they can sign him for less than $i mill they will probably do so…although saying he is a 2nd line center might be a stretch.