How much is the salary cap going to hurt the Blackhawks?

This is a story we have all seen before. 

The Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup, and then the focus immediately shifts to what the salary cap is going to do to the roster that just won the Stanley Cup. 

The most impressive thing about the Blackhawks' three championships in six years is the very fact they have done it in a 30-team, salary cap league, a structure that none of the NHL's legendary dynasties ever had to deal with. And outside of their core group of seven players (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson) the cast of players around them has significantly changed every time. And every time the team that comes back seems to be more impressive than the previous one. 

More change is going to have to come this offseason.

Here is what we know the Blackhawks are going to have to deal with over the coming weeks:

1) Their two best players are going to go from counting $12.6 million against the salary cap to counting $21 million against the salary cap.

2) Brandon Saad is going to go from an entry level contract to making a hell of a lot more money

3) Somebody -- and likely more than one player -- is going to get traded. And this is why...

As things stand right now, the Blackhawks have a little more than $64 million in salary cap space committed to 13 players (and at this point, only four defensemen) for the 2015-16 season. That number doesn't include the raise for Saad. Assuming a salary cap of $71 million next season, that leaves $7 million to fill out the remainder of the roster. 

That is tight. But is it manageable for the Blackhawks front office? And have they taken on too much in terms of long-term commitments to their core players that could impact their ability to continue putting a Stanley Cup team on the ice?

The thing about championship teams that often times gets forgotten in the cap era is that they commit a ton of money to a small group of players at the top of their roster (and we have looked at this before). But the Blackhawks next season could be entering uncharted territory when it comes to that roster structure.

Let's take a look at every Stanley Cup winning team since the start of the 2007-08 season and how much money (both in terms of raw dollars and the percentage of their allotted salary cap space) has gone to their top-two, top-five, top-seven, and top-nine players in the year in which they won. We will also include the 2015-16 Blackhawks (as currently constructed) to see how they compare. 

Stanley Cup Champions and the Salary Cap
Team Top-2 Percent Top-5 Percent Top-7 Percent Top-9 Percent Cap
2008Red Wings $14.3 28.4% $27.9 55.4% $32.1 63.8% $35.4 70.3% $50.3
2009Penguins $13.7 24.1% $26.5 46.7% $31.5 55.5% $35.9 63.3% $56.7
2010 Blackhawks $12.7 22.3% $25.5 44.8% $32.3 56.8% $37.2 65.4% $56.8
2011 Bruins $13.8 21.0% $25.2 42.4% $33.2 55.8% $39.6 66.6% $59.4
2012 Kings $13.8 21.4% $27.3 42.4% $34.4 53.5% $41.3 64.2% $64.3
2013 Blackhawks $12.6 21.0% $30.1 50.1% $38.5 64.1% $45.1 75.1% $60.0
2014 Kings $13.8 21.4% $30.5 47.4% $35.9 55.8% $44.9 69.8% $64.3
2015 Blackhawks $12.6 18.2% $30.3 43.1% $41.3 59.8% $49.1 71.1% $69.0
2016 Blackhawks $21.0 29.5% $38.7 54.1% $49.4 69.5% $57.5 80.9% $71.0

The teams that best compare to next year's Blackhawks are the 2007-08 Red Wings and the 2012-13 Blackhawks, and keep in mind that the '07-08 Red Wings team added Marian Hossa to that roster on a one-year deal as a free agent and returned to the Stanley Cup Final. 

Still, that's a lot of money and somebody, likely from that group of nine, is going to have to be dumped from the roster to put an entire roster on the ice. So let's take a look at that top-nine for Chicago.

Patrick Kane ($10.5 million), Jonathan Toews ($10.5 million), Corey Crawford ($6 million), Patrick Sharp ($5.9 million), Brent Seabrook ($5.8 million), Duncan Keith ($5.5 million) Marian Hossa ($5.2 million), Niklas Hjalmarsson ($4.1 million), and Bryan Bickell ($4.0 million). 

The obvious names to look at as potential trades are Sharp and Bickell, who really isn't a great investment at $4 million per year. And I know there are potential complications with no-trade clauses and all of that, but it's not like a player with a no-trade clause has never been traded before.

Kris Versteeg at $2 million is another potential candidate that could be on the move. This is also where an aggressive team could really try to pounce and go after Saad with an offer sheet.  

This is why it's so important for teams like the Blackhawks to have guys like Teuro Teravainen waiting in the wings, ready to take over a major role on a cheap contract when an older, more expensive player has to leave. 

But here is another name to throw out there if you're looking at areas you can cut if you're the Blackhawks: What about Corey Crawford? 

I know. How can you even think about getting rid of a two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie? It's crazy.

But it's really not, and it is in no way a knock on Crawford's ability. He did his part to silence a lot of critics by backstopping the Blackhawks to a second Stanley Cup in five years, and at the very least he has proven to be an above average goaltender in the NHL that can at time rise to an even high level. But when you're talking about building a contending team in the salary cap era you can't think with your heart. You have to think rationally. It's simply an issue of supply and demand. With goaltending the way it is in the NHL today there are more quality goaltenders than there are available spots. It is a heck of a lot easier to find an above average goaltender for a cheap in the NHL that you can win with than it is to find a top-four defensemen or a top-six winger. 

And if there is a team in the NHL that should know this, it is the Chicago Blackhawks. Because they have been here before. After their Stanley Cup win in 2010 when they first had to deal with the salary cap crunch they walked away from the arbitration ruling for then-starter Antti Niemi so they could match an offer sheet that San Jose Sharks had signed defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to. The Blackhawks determined that Hjalmarsson was a more important -- and more difficult player to replace -- than Niemi. And they were right.

Even though Niemi has continued to be a quality goaltender in the NHL, Hjalmarsson has been a staple on the Blackhawks' defense while the team was able to find an equally good, if not better, goaltender in Crawford that they were able to win two more Stanley Cups with over the next five years. 

No matter what the Blackhawks decide to do, the team is going to look very different next season and an important player from this year's team is going to be playing for somebody else.

And even if it does result in a small step backwards (the Blackhawks will still be one of the top contenders in the NHL) they did what it took to not only keep two franchise players, but to also maximize the prime years of those two players and give them the supporting cast they needed to win multiple Stanley Cups in an era when that really wasn't supposed to happen. And you can't really fault them for that. 

Which players in this picture will be playing for new teams next season? (USATSI)
Which players in this picture will be playing for new teams next season? (USATSI)
CBS Sports Writer

Adam Gretz has been writing about the NHL and taking an analytical approach to the game since the start of the 2008 season. A member of the PHWA since 2015, he has spent more than three years covering... Full Bio

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