Chicago Blackhawks Supreme Reign; Is This The End?

The Chicago Blackhawks are currently tied 3-3 in the 2015 Western Conference Finals with the Anaheim Ducks. This year is much more important to Chicago than meets the eye however. It could be their last shot at a Stanley Cup in a long, long time.

Looking for a third Stanley Cup in just 6 years, the Chicago Blackhawks have cemented themselves as a powerhouse in the NHL every single year. But, that reign may very well be coming to an end in the near future.

Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks have put themselves in a tricky position. Like most great teams in the post-lockout era, they are right up against the salary cap. That hasn’t proven to be a problem thus far, but this offseason may be much more difficult than in the past. He is in a position where he will have to sacrifice great talent for cap space.

What They’re Up Against

The Blackhawks are currently $5.85 million under the cap for the 2015-16 season. With that remaining money, they must sign two more NHL defensemen and four more forwards. They also have Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger as RFA’s, who will conduct a great portion of that remaining money, if not all of it.

(Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)
Brandon Saad is a key RFA that the Chicago Blackhawks need to re-sign. (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

With that in mind, it seems imminent that the Chicago Blackhawks will be forced to make a pretty major trade this offseason, likely giving up one of their top forwards to shore up some cap space. Fortunately for Chicago, they have tons of trading pieces that almost all other 29 teams would be interested in.

How To Solve The Problem

This isn’t the first time the Chicago Blackhawks have had to make major sacrifices in spite of the salary cap while being able to keep their core in tact. After their Stanley Cup win in 2010, GM Stan Bowman was forced to move some key components including goaltender, Antti Niemi, and improving pieces in Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, who are now centre pieces in Winnipeg.

Dustin Byfuglien, NHL, Winnipeg Jets
Dustin Byfuglien has become a force since being traded from Chicago \following the 2010 Stanley Cup. (Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

Again, after winning the Cup in 2013, Chicago faced tough decisions. They moved key depth players in Micahel Frolik, Kris Versteeg and Dave Bolland, who actually scored the Stanely Cup winning goal for them. Once more, the Blackhawks moved forward and used their draft picks to restock their roster.

This time around, the changes may be more spectacular. The core that was kept in place past 2010 is now aging. Marian Hossa is now 36, Patrick Sharp is 33, Duncan Keith is 31 and Brent Seabrook is 30. Although they aren’t at the age where Chicago needs to worry about them breaking down, they become versatile when the team desperately needs cap space. It seems the only solution is to trade one or two of the big guns. Otherwise, they will need to risk losing Saad, Kruger, or another piece of their future.

Who Should Go?

The Chicago Blackhawks really can’t afford to lose anymore defensemen, as they only have three left as it is. Up front, they have tremendous depth and therefore, the ability to downsize and shred some money. In goal, they also have a fairly dynamic duo behind Corey Crawford, so he may become expendable as well.

Patrick Sharp:

Sharp has become one of the Blackhawks best players since being acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005 for virtually nothing. He had become a perennial 30-goal scorer and 70 point player, until a stumble this year where he picked up just 16 goals and 43 points in 68 games. He could be an absolute steal for any team looking for some extra firepower.

(Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)
Patrick Sharp could become the odd man out with the Blackhawks so close to the cap and still with many spots to be filled. (Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

He’s signed for two more years at $5.9 million, not a huge amount of money for what could be a lot of teams top scorer. Sharp could also bring back a hefty return for Chicago in the way of draft picks and nearly ready prospects. He looks like the most likely to be traded.

Destinations: Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders

Bryan Bickell:

Also acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers for relatively nothing in 2004, Bickell is a top depth player for the Blackhawks, which earned him $4 million a year. He was clutch in their 2013 Stanley Cup win, scoring 17 points in 23 games, including the Stanley Cup tying goal, which led to the Cup clinching win. On top of about 30 points each season, Bickell is a physical force and is reliable in each end, every night.

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell - Photo Credit:  Andy Martin Jr
Bryan Bickell is a key depth player for Chicago and would be missed if he had to be traded. – Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr

Bickell is signed for two more years a $4 million per year. He may be overpaid and will be tough to trade considering many other teams are so close to the salary cap. He likely wouldn’t warrant a great return, but what Chicago wants most is to get rid of his contract.

Destinations: Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets

What’s in the Future?

If the Chicago Blackhawks can somehow manage to get a 23-man roster signed under the salary cap, without capsizing some important members of their core, they could remain a powerhouse like they did after 2010 and 2013. But, what seems to be most likely, is that the Chicago Blackhawks will take a step back next year. It could ultimately spell the end of their fantastic 7 years.

One thing is for sure, if they do not make a major trade, there will be huge problems for the Blackhawks’ future. Sharp and Bickell seem to be the most likely to be dealt, but Corey Crawford is also an option Chicago could explore. Making $6 million a year, there are two goaltenders behind him who have proven they could be NHL calibre this season.

Either way, it will be an interesting offseason in the Windy City. Many tough decisions that will alter their future need to be made, and they must be made right. It’s been an unreal 7 years for the Chicago Blackhawks, here’s hoping the dynasty can continue.

How do you think Chicago will fit under the cap for 2015-16? Discuss in the comments below!