The Chicago Blackhawks got out well ahead of any speculation in regards to the futures of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews beyond next season. The two Hawks stars were entering the final year of their contracts and would have been eligible for UFA status next summer. No more.
The leaders and lifeblood of one of the NHL's two top contenders both signed eight-year extensions that will come with cap hits of $10.5 million. They are the biggest, defining contracts of the post-2013 lockout so far, where you can't "circumvent" the salary cap by tacking on significantly lower-salaried years at the end of contracts.
The $10.5 million the two stars will make against the salary cap starting in 2015-16 will be the highest cap hits in the NHL, surpassing Alex Ovechkin's $9.538 million from a deal he signed before the 2008-09 season. So, a new standard has been set in regards to how much money star players will make against the salary cap. Next summer, when Steven Stamkos can start negotiating his extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning, we can expect his cap hit to land around this number. Perhaps even more, considering he'll have a higher salary cap to negotiate under.
But in terms of actual dollars, Kane's and Toews' deals basically fall in line with other big-name signees. Over the life of their eight-year extensions, the two will make $84 million each. And although other players have signed for higher total amounts in the past, remember the CBA from 2013 has new restrictions. No longer can players sign deals that are massively front-loaded, or re-sign for longer than eight years. So to give you an idea of where Toews and Kane sit compared to other big-money deals, here is what these players will make in actual dollars in the eight highest-paid seasons of their contracts (only Evgeni Malkin's was signed under the new CBA). Actual cap hits in parenthesis.
Shea Weber*: $92 million ($7.857 million)
Sidney Crosby*: $86.4 million ($8.7 million)
Zach Parise*: $80 million ($7.538 million)
Ryan Suter*: $80 million ($7.538 million)
Alex Ovechkin: $79 million ($9.538 million)
Evgeni Malkin: $76 million ($9.5 million)
The price for keeping these two almost doesn't matter - it had to be done. They are the faces of a franchise so deep in talent that GM Stan Bowman should be able to manage the cap by moving out a high-salaried player or two and replacing them with a low-cost prospect. The Blackhawks were ranked 13th in THN's Future Watch edition this season and have two top-50 NHL prospects still to come: Teuvo Teravainen and Ryan Hartman.
But Bowman still has work to do this summer to get beneath the salary ceiling. Even though the eight-figure cap hits for Toews and Kane don't start until 2015-16, the Hawks are still currently $2.2 million above the ceiling. They don't have to move out, say, Patrick Sharp and his $5.9 million this season, but they do need to move something. Does Bowman just get out in front of next season's crunch and trade a Sharp or Bryan Bickell now?
Although the Hawks now have the two highest-paid NHL players against the salary cap on their roster, they don't have the two highest-salaried players in the league. And they keep the drivers of their contender status and faces of their franchise in the fold for the foreseeable future. Worth it? Easily.
There was no option for Chicago but to re-sign these two, especially at comparable prices to other NHL stars. Regardless of the roster maneuvering that needs to be done in the wake of these contracts, Kane and Toews are the rare players you shuffle around for.
And if, as expected, the cap keeps going up these deals will keep looking better and better.