The Chicago Blackhawks have been forced to make some unsavory trades this offseason for one reason and one reason alone - the salary cap. Even now, still missing at least one higher-end defenseman and with key restricted free agents, the Hawks only barely squeeze in under next season's $71.4 million cap.
It should be noted that the Hawks are far from the only team in that position this offseason, as the cap growth stagnated a bit in the face of a falling Canadian dollar. That left teams who had managed their cap situations well, like the Dallas Stars, in an ideal situation to take advantage of teams forced to shop their players at below market value.
You can make an argument that's exactly what the Stars did as they acquired Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt. And while the Hawks gained a little flexibility, finally coming back under the cap if only by $300,000, the Stars were able to take on Sharp's higher salary, retain some of Garbutt's and continue to sit pretty.
After the trade, the Stars now have 23 likely NHL players under contract for a total of $66.629 million, leaving a little less than $4.8 million in space to the cap.
My numbers show a slightly tighter number than those found on most of the current CapGeek imitators. Why is that? Because I use the entire potential salary for players on their entry-level contracts, of which the Stars have two on the presumed roster and possibly three depending on the status of Johns.
Also, some sites (like General Fanager) only have six NHL defensemen on the Stars active roster. That's a pretty unlikely scenario to start the season.
So here's how the Stars look from a cap perspective, starting with the forwards:
|Player||Position||Cap Hit (in millions)||Years Remaining|
The addition of Sharp has driven the average amount the Stars are spending on their forwards to $2.99 million per player, though that includes the cost of Garbutt's retained salary.
Two forwards are still on ELCs - Nichushkin and Ritchie. Ritchie has approximately $80,000 in bonuses while Nichushkin has $1.2 million. Bonuses break down into two categories - A and B bonuses. B bonuses are fairly unobtainable - things like top 10 in the league in scoring and individual trophies like the Hart, Conn Smythe and Selke. A bonuses are more obtainable production bonuses, All-Star game selections and the like.
Combined, the Stars have about $950,000 of potential A bonuses and $350,000 of potential B bonuses between Nichushkin and Ritchie.
The defensemen are still a relative bargain:
|Player||Shoots||Cap hit (in millions)||Years Remaining|
Johns, a 6-foot-4, right-shot defenseman prospect, has a cap hit of $1 million, $200,000 of which is bonus money. His addition to the roster would change the totals but not by a huge amount even if he hits every single performance bonus available. He is set to be an RFA next offseason.
As the Stars are at a full 23-player roster without Johns, his salary is not included in the final cap hit at this point. Theoretically, the Stars could carry 13 forwards and eight defensemen to allow for Johns on the roster or even 13 forwards and seven defensemen to bank cap space.
As far as goalie goes, the math there is simple:
|Player||Cap hit (in millions)||Years Remaining|
The grand total is this:
With 23 player under contract, assuming every player on an ELC hits every bonus imaginable, the Stars have $66.629 million committed to cap costs. If Johns replaced the least expensive player on the roster for the full year, that number would jump to $67 million.
That gives the Stars a minimum of $4.4-$4.7 million in space as it stands today. Realistically, the number will be higher because Nichushkin will almost certainly miss the high-level bonuses for things like the Conn Smythe or Hart Trophies, putting the numbers in the neighborhood of $65.75-$66 million salary for $5-$5.25 million in cap space.
As mentioned above, there are other ways to save money as well. The Stars may very well choose to only carry 13 forwards, especially when they're playing on long homestands with Austin close by. That would put them in the $6 million range of cap space assuming missed performance bonuses.
And at this point, the roster is a zero sum game in terms of spots. Any addition would necessitate removing a different piece from the cap structure, so the net effect is hard to predict. Like I wrote earlier this summer, it's unlikely they're going to spend $6-$7 million on a defenseman without some significant salary moving out, but that was always the most likely case with the UFA class available.
Today's move also doesn't materially affect future cap flexibility. Next summer will be an interesting one with Nichushkin, Ritchie, Johns, Demers and Goligoski all up for free agency, the first three as restricted free agents and the latter two as UFAs. Things may get a little tight depending on what the defenseman market looks like (though it should be noted the UFA forward class looks positively sparkling at the moment, so teams may want to spend money on that side instead).
But the real kicker is the summer after, when Jamie Benn is due for an extension. Not only will the Stars have Hemsky coming off the books, but Sharp's contract also expires that summer, leaving plenty of space to make a huge offer to Benn while retaining the money to replace at least one high-level wing. The Stars likely hope is that someone like Ritchie or Nichushkin has really emerged by that point, leaving fewer wing holes that offseason while they understandably deal with getting Benn wrapped up.