Time's getting tight for salary cap-squeezed Blackhawks

The Blackhawks need to trade Patrick Sharp to create badly needed salary cap space, but few teams are likely to help.
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Stan Bowman is figuring out what former Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli learned the hard way last summer.

Clearing cap space is hard to do.

Bowman’s Blackhawks currently sit roughly $718,000 over the cap, according to General Fanager. That’s not a problem today. Teams can carry salaries that total up to 10% over the cap during the off-season. They simply have to be in compliance by Oct. 7.

But Bowman also wants to clear space to re-sign free agents Johnny Oduya and Marcus Kruger. And that’s going to require some deep cuts.

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That also means that Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell and Kris Versteeg might want to retain the services of a reputable realtor. For Chicago to ensure compliance with the salary cap, one or more of those veterans must be wearing a different sweater come opening night. The trick for Bowman is that no one seems all that interested in taking his problems off his hands.

The Hawks would love to move Bickell and his $4 million cap hit, but the 29-year-old winger is coming off a pair of unproductive seasons. It’s possible that he could be dealt if Chicago retained, say, 50% of his salary, but that would be only a stopgap move.

Versteeg counts just $2.2 million against the cap—the Panthers are paying half his salary—and showed in the first half of last season (27 points in 33 games), and again in the Stanley Cup Final against the Lightning, that he can be a valuable middle-six player. Again, moving him could get the Blackhawks under the cap, but it would be a short-term solution.

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That’s why moving Sharp is viewed as the most appealing option. He carries a cap hit of $5.9 million both this year and next, and while he has a no-trade clause, that’s not expected to be a problem.

What is a problem is finding a taker. If Bowman held out any hope that a bidding war might erupt for the high-level, versatile forward, those chances ended when the Penguins acquired Phil Kessel and the Capitals added Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie. Without those Eastern Conference rivals in the mix, interest in Sharp has been tepid. So, who might take him on?

Florida might seem like an obvious option. GM Dale Tallon is a frequent trading partner and has plenty of cap space. He also has a team that’s leaning young and might benefit from Sharp’s veteran presence. The only problem with that theory is that the Panthers don’t appear to be interested.

The Islanders are reportedly out as well. Garth Snow’s top need at the moment is a veteran defenseman.

The Canadiens are another club that is mentioned as a possible destination for Sharp, but they have cap problems of their own. Montreal has to work out a deal with Alex Galchenyuk and has just over $7 million in cap space. That’s enough to sign the promising restricted free agent (RFA), but it wouldn’t leave enough room to add Sharp without making other moves that could significantly weaken the team.

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The Rangers? They have over $10 million to work with, but only nine forwards under contract. RFA center Derek Stepan is going to eat up more than half of that.

Boston? The Bruins need another forward, but after engineering several moves to create $5 million in space they’re not going to splurge on Sharp and put themselves back in cap hell.

The Flyers? They’d benefit from bringing Sharp back but have even less cap space than Boston.

That leaves Bowman with a small group of talent-challenged teams to work with. The Sabres are in the midst of one of the most dramatic makeovers in years and could be in the mix. The Devils’ offense ranked among the league’s worst last season and they’re desperate to upgrade their talent. The Maple Leafs might view Sharp as another asset to be cashed in at the deadline.

None of these teams are likely to floor Bowman with their offers, but at this point what he receives is secondary to the cap space a trade would clear this year and next, when top-four defenseman Brent Seabrook will be looking for a sizable raise.

The return for Sharp might be a couple of picks now, but his value will only decrease as the summer wears on. As Chiarelli learned last year, no one’s in a rush to help a top team out of a salary-cap jam. The longer Bowman waits, the tougher it’ll be to create the space he needs.


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