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Breaking down a potential Seabrook deal

2/13/2011

Though there were peaks and valleys and plenty of drama, we learned very little new about the Chicago Blackhawks from their recently completed six-game road trip.

They had good stretches (Columbus, Vancouver, early in Dallas), some bad ones (all of Calgary, late in Dallas), and played about right for a 2-2-2 record.

But there was one thing we learned: Brent Seabrook will be a Blackhawk at least through the end of this season, and most likely beyond.

After a spate of silly Internet rumors about an impending trade, general manager Stan Bowman put that all to rest on Thursday and Friday in various interviews, declaring Seabrook a Hawk through the 2011 playoff chase. He also said they were “aggressively pursuing a contract” with the soon to be restricted free agent.

That last statement is essentially the same stance Bowman has had since training camp. So why hasn’t it happened yet?

Last year, with three major deals to work, Bowman and the respective agents of Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane completed negotiations so smoothly they were able to announce the deals on the same day, Dec. 2. We’re in mid-February and still there has been no agreement for the former Olympian and sidekick to the reigning Norris Trophy winner.

Bowman admitted on Friday in Dallas that Seabrook’s deal was the only one he was working on of his upcoming free agents. So if he’s not busy with other contracts, and they are aggressively pursuing him, why no deal?

While there is no hard evidence things aren’t going along amicably between Bowman and Seabrook’s agent, Steve Kotlowitz, it doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines.

Seabrook’s recent repeated stance of “it’s a business” and his desire not to discuss if he wanted the deal done quicker, like the Big Three had last year, are small indicators it hasn’t been happy sailing with the negotiations.

One source has Seabrook’s asking price at around $6 million per year. It’s unclear if that was a starting, ending, or middle point. It’s also unclear if the Hawks are talking about one of those mega-deals to reduce the salary cap hit or if they just want a more normal-sized one.

Using Duncan Keith’s contract as an example is very difficult for either side. He’s averaging “only” $5.5 million per season for 13 years but getting paid $8 million for the next several. The only number that really matters is the total package: $72 million. If the Hawks offer Seabrook -- or anyone -- a figure like that, they would probably take it over the course of 20 years. After all, $72 million is $72 million.

Dan Hamuis of the Vancouver Canucks signed a six-year deal paying him $4.5 million per year last offseason. And that may have included a hometown discount. Seabrook is a better player, but it’s a good starting point. If the Hawks want to offer a Keith-like contract, then $4.5 million per year sounds about right -- as long as it’s for 10-13 years.

If it’s for a more normal amount of time, say four to six years, then the Hawks are going to have to pony up. Think more like $5 million-$5.5 million per year. Seabrook is one season away from unrestricted free-agency and could just go to arbitration. In that case, he has $4.5 million for next year in his back pocket. The Hawks have to sweeten the deal to keep him through the unrestricted free agent process.

But this is where it gets sticky. Kane and Toews signed the exact same deals. Is Seabrook thinking along those lines when it comes to he and Keith? After all, they were the anchors for a Stanley Cup team, made the Olympics together, and Keith openly admits he is the player he is because of his partnership with Seabrook.

At this point of their careers, most would rightly say Keith has accomplished more, starting with the Norris Trophy. But there are things Seabrook does better, starting with his physical presence. He also has a better shot than Keith and replaced him on the top power play unit on the top power play in the league.

But how many long-term deals can the Hawks afford to sign? Yes, it gives them instant salary cap help but at some point 10- to 13-year contracts are probably going to come back to haunt them, no matter who the player is. See Marian Hossa for evidence, or rather, see Hossa in about seven years from now.

If Seabrook wants Keith money -- one way or another -- then these negotiations are going to continue to drag. If he’s willing to accept a proportional amount less, than all should be OK before he becomes a restricted free agent on July 1.

An average of $5 million for whatever amount of years sounds about the number the Hawks and Seabrook should end up with, give or take a few hundred thousand dollars. A really long-term deal might reduce that figure; a shorter term one should increase it.

And while this season hasn’t been the best for Keith or Seabrook, that’s hardly going to play a major role in the talks. You hope he is what everyone thinks he is -- a one or two defenseman -- for the next decade in the league, and you proceed accordingly, even if it is a down year.

Obviously the sides aren’t miles and miles apart or else Bowman would not have committed to him past the Feb. 28 trade deadline. If he knows for sure he can’t get a deal done, then trading him was always a slim possibility. Then again, they have his rights through next season so they can trade him at any time between now and then if a deal can’t be worked. Doing it now would have waved the white flag on the season.

That’s not something Joel Quenneville is ready to do. Seabrook is certainly a candidate as well for a restricted free-agent offer sheet, like the one Niklas Hjalmarsson received last summer.

Bottom line, it’s taken longer than maybe Seabrook or the Hawks would have liked but both sides need each other, so expect a deal at some point. When that occurs, is anyone’s guess.