While unrestricted free agency is going to grab most of the headlines, July 1 also represents the first day clubs can start working on extensions for players on the last year of their contract in 2014-15. The two biggest names in that group are on the same team. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will see their most recent contracts expire at the end of the upcoming season, but Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has been emphatic in his desire to re-sign the high-scoring duo.
However, if initial reports hold true, Bowman is going to have to spend big time to keep both. According to Bob McKenzie of TSN, it is believed that Kane and Toews are asking for new contracts with an annual average of $12 million for each.
It's believed Kane-Toews initial ask of CHI on extension is around $12M/yr each. They'll end up lower but still could be $10M+ AAV players.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 26, 2014
As McKenzie notes, it is unlikely the duo will get that much from the Blackhawks, but with the salary cap expected to continue its climb to exceed $71 million, they could get closer than anyone would have previously thought possible to that number. Now, it's important to note that this is the art of negotiation. Ask for the moon first, then work toward a compromise.
Kane and Toews are both represented by superagent Pat Brisson, who was reportedly a top candidate for the Pittsburgh Penguins general manager position before he stated he would prefer to remain with Creative Artists Agency. These two contract negotiations likely had a lot to do with that.
Toews and Kane are coming off of identical five-year, $31.5 million contracts that carried a $6.3 million cap hit. With what they have contributed over the life of that deal, including the second of two Stanley Cup titles, the Blackhawks have gotten great value.
Now, if those players are looking to nearly double their salary, the new cap is going to allow them to get close. The highest paid players in the NHL currently, in terms of cap hit, are Alexander Ovechkin at a $9.538 million hit and Evgeni Malkin at $9.5 million. Malkin and Crosby are the most expensive duo in hockey with a combined cap hit of $18.2 million.
Those deals were consummated under the old CBA and lower salary cap. It is not unreasonable to expect both Kane and Toews to come up with a combined cap hit that ends up near the $20 million range with long term attached.
Heading into next season, the Blackhawks have plenty of space to keep most of the team intact, but if they are going to throw this much money at Kane and Toews, the Hawks will have to get creative heading into the 2015-16 campaign.
Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Bryan Bickell, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Corey Crawford each have multiple years remaining on their contracts with cap hits that exceed $4 million annually. They also have Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger becoming restricted free agents after the 2014-15 season. You would expect they would like to at least get Saad under a longer-term deal at some point during the season.
When Sharp was reported as being available earlier in the week (a claim his own agent denied vehemently Wednesday), those rumors may have more veracity if the Blackhawks are looking to dump some salary. They don't have to do it before next season, but very well could after.
This is going to be a fascinating scenario to watch as the Blackhawks undoubtedly will be looking to get both under long-term deals. Bowman will have to find a way to do so without handcuffing the team going forward in the process.
Fact is, the cap is rising, but how much and for how long we don't know. The Blackhawks can't deal in hypotheticals when examining how much to pay, but if there are two guys worth handing big-time contracts to, it's the two faces of the franchise. Expect Bowman to find a way to make it all work, even if it has to come at the expense of other key players.