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Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Amid big contracts, Hawks creative

By Jesse Rogers

It’s been a busy few days in the NHL, and for the Chicago Blackhawks. In the midst of their best run of the season, we’ll examine -- in several blog posts -- the moves and ramifications.

Between now and the beginning of the offseason (and beyond) you’ll hear a lot of complaining about how much money the Hawks have tied up in their defense as well as the approximate $49 million they have committed to 12 players on the roster for next season.

Marian Hossa
Even with his massive contract, Marian Hossa's cap hit is a manageable $5.275 million.
It’s a legitimate complaint which stems back to the moment the Hawks signed some big-ticket deals, starting with Brian Campbell in 2008.

But a knee-jerk complaint without further analysis wouldn’t be fair.

In reality, since some of those bloated deals, the Hawks have shown some restraint and creativity. A “mere” $5.5 million cap hit on Duncan Keith, the Norris Trophy winner isn’t too bad. And what did you think Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were going to be, $3 million guys? Even Marian Hossa’s deal -- at least cap-wise at $5.275 million -- isn’t so debilitating. You have to pay for talent. Yes, Brent Seabrook’s cap hit is large, but as general manager Stan Bowman pointed out, his raise was only a couple million dollars more than what he is making now.

The most telling thing about Bowman’s recent comments was a casual mention of the “known” being better than the “unknown” when it comes to his players. (Apparently that didn’t apply to Antti Niemi who signed a big contract extension with San Jose on Tuesday). Here is the bottom line, setting aside some average play this year: The Hawks, including Seabrook, have a core which won them the Stanley Cup. Yes, they will have to fill in some blanks from year to year because of their cap problems, but this is about establishing a playoff foundation, as team president John McDonough said recently. And he also noted what is unique about the NHL.

Making the playoffs is the only thing that matters. Eighth seeds go to the finals, President Trophy winners go out in the first round. A core led by Toews will get you to the playoffs year in and year out, and that’s about all you can ask for in the cap world we live in.

Last year, they needed less good fortune because they were loaded. Going forward they might need more, but so does any potential Cup winner. Consider how many teams would love to have the foundation the Hawks possess, no matter how many minimum salaried players have to dress. And consider this as well: A case can be made the entire core, save perhaps Hossa, is still improving. If this is the worst we’ll see because of fatigue, hangovers, and contract pressure, then it’s really not so bad.

Remember, the Philadelphia Flyers made the playoffs, in a shootout, in game 82 just last season, and then went on to the finals. Do the Hawks have enough to make the playoffs every year? They most certainly do. Could they have moved Seabrook and spent his money on two players? Of course, but that just means they have to find the right players as well as replace the most physical defenseman they have. Who wants to deal with all that?

The known is indeed better than the unknown.