During the Great Chicago Blackhawks Firesale of 2010, I've come across many comments along the lines of "Why? WHY? WHEN WILL THIS MADNESS STOP? WILL SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN?" Understandably, many are quite upset that the 2010 Stanley Cup Championship Team (mmmmm, that'll never get old) is being eviscerated, dismantled, gutted (your words, not mine). We've lost playoff heroes in Byfuglien, Ladd, and Sopel, crowd favorites in Burish and Versteeg, and we wonder if the end is in sight. Some have even dared ask: What would Dale Tallon have done?
And that is a completely fair question to ask. None of us really felt at ease with Bowman Jr's ascension to GM, figuring the RFA snafu wasn't enough reason to fire the affable Tallon (and even if, was it Dale Tallon's fault, really, that envelopes weren't licked and stamps not slapped onto the qualifying offers?). Even worse, Stan Bowman's name will be on the Cup when the real architect of this championship team was Tallon (although he gets his name in the Cup too, plus a ring). Clearly, whatever he does during this off-season merits scrutiny.
What is Stan Bowman doing to the team that broke a 49-year drought? Why is he dismantling a champion? Is he so out of his mind that he is "destroying this team so he can rebuild a better one to call his own", as one Twitter user postulated?
Well, dear reader(s?), while we have yet to receive access to the Blackhawks front office, there is another way we can test these theories. It's a simple game called "Armchair GMing".
The premise is simple:
You are a young capologist who, thanks to a clerical error, some backstage political wrangling, and your dear old father's string-pulling, has inherited a team of bright, talented, young players eager to win. Your goal is to keep this team a contender every year, and obviously, that means signing a number of players looking at free agency at the end of the season.
The hitch? You will have to do this within the salary cap.
You have a number of assorted RFAs and UFAs coming up, a few of whom are listed below:
- Jonathan Toews, RFA, youngest franchise captain, future Conn Smythe winner, number-to-the-rafters kind of player
- Patrick Kane, RFA, #1 overall draft pick, Olympic Silver medal winner, future Stanley Cup Final OT-winner scorer, numbers-to-the-afters caliber as well
- Duncan Keith, RFA, top blueliner, future Norris Trophy winner, another numbers-to-the-rafters kind of player
- Niklas Hjalmarsson, RFA, solid top-4 defenseman, shot-blocker, penalty-killer
- Antti Niemi, RFA, rookie back-up-turned-starting goaltender
- Andrew Ladd, RFA, 3rd line checking winger
- Colin Fraser, RFA, 4th line center
- Ben Eager, RFA, 4th line winger
- John Madden, UFA, 3rd line checking center
- Adam Burish, UFA, 4th line winger
- Nick Boynton, UFA, 6th defenseman
- Kim Johnsson, UFA, deceased
As with any games, of course, there are certain stipulations that must be followed:
- Duncan Keith is willing to sign a lifetime contract to lower his cap hit, but it must be reasonable. He is worried about the NHL launching any sort of investigation.
- Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have been advised by their agent to avoid lifetime contracts, so that they can hit the UFA market in a few years' time.
- Andrew Ladd will want a much more significant raise than the base 105% you are allowed to start with when you qualify RFAs
Whether or not you choose to wait until the off-season to sign any or all of these players to extensions doesn't matter much the season you inherit this team-- at the end of it, you win the Cup! Congratulations! Your team captain is the MVP of the entire playoffs! As a result of this, the entry-level contract he signed years ago gives him a bonus that will, unfortunately, now count against the cap for next year. In fact, his teammate also hit his entry-level contract bonus targets, so their bonuses will have to come off the cap.
The good news? The league salary cap was raised to $59.4 million.
The bad news? You are now working with a salary cap hit of $55.2 million.
Here's where the game gets interesting:
The NHL market for free agency is as it usually is-- a surplus of players in one position (goaltending) has led to a significant dip in their asking prices. As a result, not a lot of teams are looking for high-priced goaltenders any longer. In fact, goalies are averaging $1.5m per year! Meanwhile, a low supply of defensemen seems to raise the prices for top-four defensemen with a few years of experience-- they are averaging around $5m per year.
You, dear Armchair GMer, have assets in your arsenal, and a fairly tight budget to work with, but we have faith in your abilities!
Use this tool to help guide your decision-making process. Which free agents would you re-sign? Which signed players would you move? What kinds of trades would you have made, and what other moves would you have initiated given the constraints that you have also inherited along with the team?
We encourage you to play around with the calculator, and when you're done, post your answers in the comments below. We hope you enjoyed this mental exercise, and remember: if Olli Jokinen can get re-signed by the team that traded him, and if a player with 14 points in 255 games can earn $1.5m for 4 years, then there are clearly no wrong answers.
(With some material taken from an SCH fanpost I wrote yesterday.)