The Chicago Blackhawks signed Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to identical eight-year, $84 million contracts last week. They are the face of the Blackhawks so it made sense to re-sign them, but with a combined $21 million cap hit the new deals will limit the Hawks ability to add proven depth to their roster.
Of course the Hawks needed to keep these players, but even if the salary cap shoots up to $75 million in 2015/2016 Kane and Toews will eat up 28% of the total space. With that much of the cap eaten up by two players it makes it extremely difficult to add quality depth players, which is a necessity if you want to win the Cup.
Here is a look at the Cup winners in the salary cap era and the % of their top players.
|Year||Team||Salary Cap||top two players||% of cap|
|2012||Los Angeles||$64.3 mill||Kopitar/Doughty||21.4|
|2014||Los Angeles||$64.3 mill||Kopitar/Doughty||21.4|
The Hurricanes in 2006 and the Hawks in 2010 both had their two best players on entry level contracts. That is extremely rare.
When the Ducks won in 2007 Chris Pronger played 30:11/game while Scott Niedermayer was on for 29:50/game. The Ducks won with stifling defence, allowing two or fewer goals in 15 of their 21 playoff games. They won because they had two of the top-three D-men in the league on the ice for half the game. Again, very rare.
The 2009 Penguins won when Malkin was in the final year of his ELC. Malkin and Crosby scored a whopping 37% of the Penguins playoff goals that year. Those two were the main reason the Pens won. It is rare to see two players contribute so heavily to the overall offence.
Malkin got a new contract following the Cup win, and since 2010 Malkin and Crosby have combined for 30.6%, 29.2%, 27%, 24.7% and 27% of the Pens overall salary. The only year the Pens made it to the 3rd round was in 2013, when Crosby and Malkin’s combined cap percentage was under 25.
When the Hawks won in 2013, Kane and Toews were only 18% of the Chicago’s total cap hit.
I’m not saying the Hawks shouldn’t have signed them, of course they should have, but taking a lower average cap hit would have increased the Hawks’ chances of winning more Cups.
The NHL is unique in that the best players don’t play that much compared to the NFL, NBA or MLB.
The best forwards play between 33-36% of the game. The dominant D-men usually play between 26-28 minutes, 43-46% of the total game.
Hockey is the ultimate team game, and you need depth to win, and when you pay two players almost 30% of your total cap that limits your ability to sign quality secondary players.
When the Hawks won in 2013, Toews had only three goals in 23 games. He had one in the first three rounds of the playoffs. No other NHL team would make it to the Cup final with one goal from their #1 centre, but the Hawks’ depth allowed them to win without a significant offensive production from their best forward.
Malkin and Crosby scored 37% (29 of 79) of the Penguins goals when they won, Kane and Toews combined for 18% (12 of 64). The Hawks won because they had great players, but also because they had incredible depth. Patrick Sharp scored ten goals, Bryan Bickell had an out-of-body experience scoring 9-8-17 and finishing 2nd on the team in points.
I understand that Toews does other things to help his team win.
If you look at the Hawks possession stats from 2013 you’ll see that Toews was very good, but his teammates were very solid as well. Here are the Hawks possession numbers at 5×5.
Every Hawk player was above 51%CF (Corsi For) except Handzus and Bolland. Toews was the best, but Kane was 9th. Great teams win Stanley Cups, not individual players. It is interesting to note that Duncan Keith, Johnny Oduya, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Michal Roszival played more EV minutes than Kane and Toews.
You need quality D-men to win a Cup and you need depth, and you need cap space to pay for that depth.
I understand why the Hawks signed both of them, but moving forward Stan Bowman will have to make some difficult changes to his roster. Johnny Oduya is a UFA next summer, and the Hawks will need to look hard at buying out Marian Hossa, due to the potential recapture penalties. Replacing a top-four D-man and your 3rd or 4th best forward is not easy. Those would be huge holes.
WILL DEPTH PLAYERS FEEL THE PINCH?
For years we’ve heard that the middle class NHL player would feel a cash crunch due to the salary cap. That hasn’t happened. It has gone the other way. Bickell, with one 30-point season and one excellent playoff year, is now making $4 million a year. I suspect Bowman regrets that contract. Bickell’s possession numbers aren’t good enough to argue he’s deserving of that deal either.
Some have suggested that the Toews and Kane contracts are the beginning of the elite players taking a larger chunk of the money. That might happen, but it won’t happen right away.
Kane and Toews’ contracts begin in 2015/2016, so for a fair comparison let’s look at the other team’s top two contracts for 2015/2016. **We will use $75 million as the cap ceiling for next year.***
Chicago: Kane/Toews = $21 million, 28% of cap. Deals expire in 2023.
Anaheim: Perry/Getzlaf = $16.8 million, 22.4% of cap. Deals expire in 2021.
Minnesota: Parise/Suter = $15.7 mill, 20.9% of cap. Deals expire in 2025.
Nashville: Weber/Rinne = $14.8 mill, 19.7% of cap. Rinne expires in 2019.
Vancouver: The Sedins = $14 mill, 18.7% of cap. Deals expire in 2018.
LA: Doughty/Kopitar = $13.8 million,18.2% of cap. Kopitar expires in 2016.
St.Louis: Stastny/Pietrangelo = $13.5 mill, 18% of cap. Stastny expires in 2018.
San Jose: Thornton/Marleau = $13.4 mill, 17.9% of cap. Deals expire in 2017.
Edmonton: Hall/RNH = $12 mill, 16% of cap. Hall expires in 2020.
Colorado: Duchene/Varlamov = $11.9 mill, 15.8% of cap. Deals expire in 2019.
*Dallas: Seguin/Lehtonen = $11.6 mill, 15.5% of cap. Lehtonen expires in 2018.
Winnipeg: Enstrom/Wheeler = $11.3 mill, 15% of cap. Enstrom expires in 2018.
Arizona: Ekman-Larsson/Smith = $11.2 mill. 14.9% of total cap. Deals expire in 2019.
Calgary: Wideman/Hiller = $9.7 mill, 12.9% of cap. Hiller expires in 2016.
*Spezza is a UFA next summer, and he will need a bounce back year to command $7 million again.
In the West only Kopitar is the only star player up for a renewal in 2016. Jamie Benn’s contract is up in 2017 as is Mark Giordano’s, but there aren’t many elite players who will command big dollars in the coming years.
I don’t see the middle guys being squeezed out right away, and I believe it will be hard for Chicago to match the depth of the other elite western teams starting in 2015/2016.
WSH: Ovechkin/Backstrom = $16.2 mill, 21.6% of cap. Backstrom expires in 2019.
Carolina: Staal/Semin = $15.2 mill, 20.2% of cap. Stall expires in 2016.
Toronto: Kessel/Phaneuf = $15 mill, 20% of cap. Phaneuf expires in 2021.
Tampa: Stamkos/Callahan = 14.3 mill, 19% of cap. Stamkos expires in 2016.
**Montreal: Price/Subban = $14 mill, 18.7% of cap. Price expires in 2018.
Boston: Chara/Rask = $13.9 mill, 18.5% of cap. Chara expires in 2018.
Philly: Giroux/Streit = $13.5 mill, 18% of cap. Streit expires in 2017.
Detroit: Datsyuk/Zetterberg = $13.5 mill, 18% of cap. Datsyuk expires in 2017.
Florida: Campbell/Bolland = $12.6 mill, 16.8% of cap. Campbell expires in 2016.
NJ: Scheider/Zajak = 11.75 mill, 15.6% of cap. Zajak expires in 2021.
Columbus: Wisniewski/Horton = $10.8 mill, 14.4% of cap. Wisniewski expires in 2017.
Ottawa: Karlsson/Michalek = $10.5 mill, 14% of cap. Deals expire in 2017.
NYI: Tavares/Grabovski = $10.5 mill, 14% of cap. Deals expire in 2018.
Buffalo: Moulson/Myers = $10.5 mill, 14% of cap. Deals expire in 2019.
**I project Subban to get at least $7.5 million on his new deal this summer.*
Columbus is already in contract talks with Sergei Bobrovsky, and he will be close to Rinne’s $7 mill/year starting in 2015 so the Jackets will
jump up around 17%. Ryan Johanssen will likely have to settle for a short-term
bridge deal before he gets a significant jump.
I don’t see how the top stars will take away from the middle class. It could happen over time, if the cap flattens out, but teams that have cap space or no big name stars will always overpay the middle tier players in the hopes they will improve their team. We might see the bottom tier players feel a bit of a pinch, but even then I doubt it is league-wide.
The Hawks needed to keep Kane and Toews, but their cap flexibility will be hampered starting next summer, and it is going to be extremely difficult for them to compete with top teams who are paying less to their star players.
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