Saturday, July 05, 2008

Chicago Among The Big Spenders

For the first time in a long time (and possibly ever) the Chicago Blackhawks will be among the biggest spenders in the NHL. Their payroll is near the salary cap.

The fundamental change in the Chicago Blackhawk organization came when longtime owner Bill Wirtz died and replaced by his son Rocky Wirtz. Rocky was no longer satisfied to make a profit with a non-competitive franchise and decided to invest in it.

Chicago signed the best available free agent goalie and defenceman. The goalie signed was Cristobal Huet. Huet signed a four year $22.4 million contract. The defenceman signed was Brian Campbell who signed an eight year $56.8 million contract. This is big money that Chicago has never thrown around in the past.

The problem with these signings is that Chicago signed older players who are likely in the decline phases of their careers (as most free agents are). Huet is going to be 33 by next season and Campbell is 29. Chicago will have their rights for most of their thirty-something seasons, which will not likely be their career best years. Huet as never been a serious Vezina candidate and Campbell has never been a serious Norris threat, so neither is the truly elite players that can turn franchises around. Nevertheless, Chicago should be a much improved team next year (in part due to Huet and Campbell).

The biggest reason Chicago is on an upswing is not their free agent signing. It is their young stars in Calder Trophy winner Patrick Kane and fellow nominee Jonathan Toews. The biggest priority in Chicago is to make sure there is salary cap room to re-sign these two when the time comes. That priority is taken care of, so far, in that three large contracts will end next summer. Nikolai Khabibulin, Martin Havlat and Robert Lang are all scheduled to be unrestricted free agents next summer. This frees over $16 million in salary cap room. The Kane and Toews contracts are good through the end of the 2009/10 season, so Chicago must make sure not to use that salary cap room in long term contracts next summer, but the money is there to re-sign Kane and Toews.

With their young star players and their free agent signings, things are looking up in Chicago. I think they stand a good chance of making the playoffs this season (for the first time since 2003). Finally, Chicago Blackhawk fans may have something to cheer about.

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