The Chicago Blackhawks are currently above the NHL's $69 million salary cap for next season. According to CapGeek.com's projection, they have to shed just north of $2.2 million to be compliant by the start of the season. So someone is going to have to be traded.
Patrick Sharp has been a common target of trade rumors, but a new name emerged and this one seems to make a fair amount more sense in terms of the way it would impact Chicago's lineup for next season.
According to John Shannon of Sportsnet, the name popping up most frequently as being available is veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya.
“I keep hearing Johnny Oduya's name,” Shannon said on TSN 1260 in Edmonton (via the Edmonton Journal). “I keep hearing they're going to find a way to move Johnny Oduya and get rid of the dollars he makes, and do it with minimum dollars on that five, six, seven defenseman position.”
Oduya seems like the kind of asset that would be easy to move. He's a top-four defenseman on one of the league's top teams, making $3.375 million next season and is on a contract that expires next season.
Oduya will turn 33 at the start of next season and his best days are likely behind him. That said, he and Niklas Hjalmarsson were often drawing Chicago's toughest defensive minutes for most of the season. Oduya played more than 20 minutes a game and saw significant penalty kill time. He combines that strong defensive play with decent puck-moving abilities. In his more defensive role, Oduya's numbers offensively have predictably taken a hit. He had 16 points in 2013-14.
Every year it seems a number of teams around the league are looking for defensemen and Oduya would fit in with a lot of clubs. He's not a game-breaker, but a quality role player and for the Blackhawks, he'd be tough to part with just because his minutes will be tough to replace.
They won't be as hard to replace as the 78 points Sharp put up last year including 34 goals, though. Dealing Sharp would give the Blackhawks more financial flexibility next season and beyond when the Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews megadeals kick in. But those $10.5 million cap hits don't kick in until after 2014-15. Adding Brad Richards through free agency suggests the Blackhawks are ready to make another run at the Stanley Cup and Sharp would help to that end, probably more than Oduya would.
The Hawks would not get the same kind of return for Oduya as they would for Sharp obviously, but even if it ended up just being draft picks, it's worth it to shed the contract. The Blackhawks have some decent prospects in the pipeline where they can afford to trade away a player without getting a roster asset in return.
Chicago has some low-money options available to them to fill out the open defensive spot should Oduya be traded as well. Nick Leddy probably could hop into the top four for Chicago, though it's unlikely head coach Joel Quenneville will give him the same kind of tough assignments he gave to Oduya. He did have 31 points last year, though, and could benefit the club even more with more minutes.
Then at the bottom of the defensive lineup, the Blackhawks could potentially bring back unrestricted free agent Sheldon Brookbank on a cheap deal, something general manager Stan Bowman has mentioned being an option earlier in the summer. The Blackhawks also already signed NHL veteran Kyle Cumiskey on a one-year deal. There's also the possibility of filling the bottom pairing with one of the few youngsters Chicago has at its disposal like David Rundblad, who has one year left on his deal at a cool $785,000 against the cap, or Adam Clendening, who has had a rather strong run in the American Hockey League over the last two years in Rockford and would have a cap hit under $750,000.
So there are options for the Blackhawks to maintain a defense that already boasts the reigning Norris Trophy winner in Duncan Keith, longtime stalwart Brent Seabrook and the aforementioned Hjalmarsson and Leddy. They'd lose a little depth if Oduya is the odd man out, but they have to get cap compliant somehow.
There should be a decent enough market for a player like Oduya if he is indeed the player the Hawks would most readily part with. A veteran defenseman with a Stanley Cup capable of playing big minutes against top competition all at a rather reasonable rate with no multi-year commitment should probably interest more than a few NHL clubs in need of blue line help.
It seems like trading Oduya the most obvious move at this point for the Blackhawks, but you never really can tell what Bowman has up his sleeve. It will be worth watching as the offseason progresses.