Aug 012011

If, as Rocky Wirtz claims, the Blackhawks are still operating in the red through this past season, the company will have its work cut out for itself this coming year.

As things stand now, the Blackhawks will spend a minimum-projected $77 million on player salaries in 2011-12.  This is about an $8.5 million increase on what was spent in 2010-11, $68.5M.  The Hawks spent $66.0M in 2009-10, including performances bonuses ($4.1M) that went penalized against the Hawks cap the following season.

While the team at this point sits roughly $3M under the $64.3M salary cap ceiling with the roster one player over the 23-man limit, several factors will have the team spending almost $13 million more than the “upper limit.”

Your average NHL franchise will spend anywhere from $2M to $2.5M on players in their minor league system.  On top of that, the Hawks are still on the hook for the final year of Cristobal Huet’s 4-year, $22.5M contract.  Last season the organization loaned Huet to Fribourg-Gotteron of the Swiss Nationalliga-A.  Despite the transfer, Wirtz ate most of Huet’s $5.625M salary and will likely do the same this season unless there is the unlikely event of a trade.

Several players will also earn (before escrow holdbacks) far more than their 2011-12 cap ‘hits’.  Marian Hossa leads the way on this front.  The first seven years of Hossa’s twelve year $63.3M contract pay him $7.9M annually.  In the final four years on that deal Hossa will make a total of $4M, assuming he plays one or more of those years out.  So, while Hossa has a “comfortable” $5.275M cap hit, he’ll be paid an additional $2.65M more than his cap number.

Duncan Keith is another.  The highest-paid Blackhawk of all-time will again make $8 million this season.  His cap hit is $5.538M.  Brent Seabrook’s new deal has him making $7 million both this year and next, before the final three years when he makes $5 million in each of those seasons.  Thus his cap hit is $5.8M, but the Hawks will pay him $1.2M over that figure in 2011-12.  Patrick Sharp’s deal is up after this season, this year he’ll be paid three hundred thousand more than his $3.9M cap hit.

The newest Blackhawk in this scenario is defenseman Steve Montador.  After Stan Bowman traded for Montador’s rights on June 29th, the Hawks’ GM gave the former Sabre a 4-year $11M contract.  It was a bit richer than most had anticipated, coming with it a $2.75M cap hit for a third-pairing blue liner.  That contract too though is heavily frontloaded.  Montador will make $4.6M this season, a whopping 42% of his four-year contract in year one.

Michael Frolik’s new three-year deal has a $2.333M cap hit.  He’ll make $3.0M this season.  Corey Crawford’s new three-year pact carries a $2.666M cap hit.  Crawford will make $3.25M for his 2011-12 work.  And Rostislav Olesz’s inherited contract pays him $3.4M this season.  The cap hit in year four of his six-year contract is $3.125M.

Both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane’s salaries take a temporary dip this season.  Their five-year agreements are identical.  Entering the second year of those deals, their salaries drop from $6.5 to $6.0M and will stay at the latter figure for 2012-13.  The final two years of those deals jump back up to $6.5, thus giving Toews and Kane each $6.3M cap hits under the current collective bargaining agreement.

At $77 million, the Blackhawks’ payroll is larger than twelve Major League Baseball rosters, but still $50 million lower than both the Cubs and White Sox’ rosters.

The Blackhawks average player salary will fall between $2.95 and $3.0M as it stands now (an increase from $2.5M last season).  That’s a higher average than fourteen MLB teams had in 2011.  This is figuring Rostislav Olesz on the team and one of Ben Smith, Marcus Kruger or John Scott – not.

Had the Brian Campbell-Rostislav Olesz trade not gone down, and Campbell still been a Blackhawk today, Chicago would actually slide in just under the $64.3M upper limit right now (assuming Lepisto would not have signed).  Of course, Rocky Wirtz would also have an $80 million player payroll.

While there is no way of predicting how Rocky’s chips will fall next summer due to the uncertainty of the next collective bargaining agreement, Wirtz will at least have Huet’s money off the books after this season.  Sharp’s actual salary raise will be anywhere from 1 to 1.5 million annually so payroll should still drop at least a few million next year.  The Hawks will just have to pray the next CBA doesn’t change cap hits from the average over term to actual yearly salary.  If so, there could be some big changes.

–As far as the 2011-12 roster goes, right now the Hawks sit with 44 players under contract.  That gives them 6 available roster slots.  You should expect them to keep two of those open for possible waiver acquisitions, trade flexibility, in-season free agent signings, college defections, et al.

One of those other four could go to Ray Emery should he win a one-way contract with a strong training camp and exhibition performances.  Others could be used to fill two veteran slots on the IceHogs.  And one could also be saved for Andrew Shaw or Rob Flick, should one or the other have a strong training camp and choose to skip out on their final junior season and turn pro.  Both are 20 now.

–Swedish defenseman Jonathan Carlsson is no longer with the organization.  Carlsson, who turns 23 this Friday, left the Hawks on October 12th of last season and signed with Brynas of the Swedish Elitserien League.   He’s staying there.  Carlsson had one year remaining on his entry-level contract in Chicago and was a Hawks’ sixth-round selection in 2008.  The Hawks picked him seven spots before they took Ben Smith.  They took five defenseman with their seven picks in 2008.  Two of those defenseman, Carlsson and Teigan Zahn, have since been future endeavored.  Braden Birch (6th round #179) is entering his junior year at Cornell University.  Diminutive (5’8”) blue liner Joe Gleason (7th round, #192) will play his junior year at North Dakota this season and Shawn Lalonde (3rd round, #68) is facing a crucial year in his development in his second season in Rockford.  Kyle Beach (1st round, #11) is the other ’08 draft pick.

–Rockford signed two players on Monday.

Goaltender Carter Hutton, 26, who was with the San Jose Sharks organization last season, signed a one-year AHL contract with the IceHogs.  Hutton didn’t get into a game, but he did serve as Antti Niemi’s backup for 13 games last season, while Antero Niittymaki was nursing a lower body injury.  The Thunder Bay, Ontario native spent four years at U-Mass-Lowell (2006-10) before turning pro.  He signed a one year deal with the Sharks on July 1, 2010.

At U-Mass-Lowell, Hutton amassed a 32-41-10 collegiate career record, with a 2.36 GAA and .911 save percentage.  In a professional try-out with Philadelphia farm team Adirondack in the spring of 2010, Hutton posted a record of 1-2-1 with a 2.71 GAA and .921 save percentage.  Last year with the Worcester Sharks, Hutton was 11-7-2 with a 3.01 GAA and .902 save percentage.

Hutton’s presence gives the IceHogs two goaltenders (the other being Alec Richards) and will make for a competitive Rockford camp.  He wouldn’t be in Blackhawks’ camp unless he should receive a non-roster invite, which is possible but not likely with Ray Emery already attending as an invitee and only so many reps to go around.  Where Hutton’s signing becomes interesting is if Emery does beat out Alexander Salak for the NHL back up position, dropping Salak to Rockford.  Hutton’s been a pro just a year and change, but he’s never been to the ECHL.  Alec Richards has however.

The IceHogs also inked Minnesota State-Mankato defenseman Ben Youds to a one-year AHL contract.  Youds attended the Blackhawks summer prospect camp (wearing #76) the past two years.

Youds, 23, collected 11 goals, 56 assists and 184 penalty minutes in his 145 game career at Mankato. Odds are the 5’11” 185 pound Maple Grove, Minnesota native will be headed to Toledo (ECHL) in October.

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