TAMPA, Fla. —Rocky Wirtz isn’t worried about the inevitable cap crunch.
“If we’ve done our homework — no,” the Blackhawks chairman said Wednesday in a press conference prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. “And I think Stan [general manager Stan Bowman] and his folks in the organization have done their homework.”
The cap issue is certain to impact the Hawks’ offseason, with eight-year, $84 million contracts for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane kicking in for 2015-16. With cap hits of $10.5 million each, Kane and Toews alone will comprise 30 percent of the Hawks’ salary cap next season. And with Bowman’s promise to sign free-agent-to-be Brandon Saad to a new contract that won’t come cheap, the cap crunch will only be greater this summer.
That means Bowman will have some big decisions to make, as the salary cap is only expected to rise from $69 million to no more than $71.5 million in 2015-16.
Wirtz has “complete faith” in Bowman’s ability to figure it out and maintain the Hawks’ standing as perennial Stanley Cup contenders.
“They have plenty of scenarios because we don’t know what the cap is going to be,” Wirtz said. “It could be [a] $500,000 difference up or down. But I think Stan’s been working on it. It’s not like he’s going to wake up in the middle of June and say, ‘Oh my gosh, what the heck are we going to do?’ He’s been working on this since training camp on the what-ifs. I’m not worried because I have complete faith in the process they go through.”
Regardless of the future, though, Wirtz was able to bask in the most recent success of the organization — a franchise renaissance that that pretty much took off when he took over as chairman in 2007. The Hawks, a team that went to the playoffs one time in 11 years from 1998-2008 and had not won a Stanley Cup since 1961, are going for their third Cup in the past six seasons in this year’s Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“If you would have asked me this in 2007, I would have given you a million-to-one [odds] —and anything over 100-1 is impossible,” Wirtz said. “I think we’re very, very fortunate. If you could have said we could be here from ’07 to today three times in the Finals, I am very surprised.
“But it’s a credit to the organization —a credit to John McDonough, the team he’s built, Jay Blunk and obviously Stan Bowman. So we’re quite proud of the job they’ve done. And quite frankly, the nucleus of the team — and that’s something that Stan has really harped on from Day One. That’s something that we’re excited about.”
As Wirtz noted, the key to sustaining success will be in Bowman’s ability to continue signing the right veteran players to affordable contracts and also develop players like the 22-year-old Saad, 23-year-old Anderew Shaw and 20-year-old Teuvo Teravainen. The Hawks are not a dynasty, but they are ahead of the pack in the NHL in the salary-cap era.
“I’m not sure what a dynasty is, but I’ll tell you one thing, we have a very good hockey team and the nice thing is we’re privileged to be here,” Wirtz said when asked if he would consider the Hawks a dynasty if they won the Cup this year.
“What I would really like to say is I’m so proud of Stan for re-inventing. He invented the 2010 team. He invented the 2013 team, and I think this team is a re-invention too. So it’s more of a re-invention and being able to have a process in place to be successful.
“Our goal is —we know we can’t win the Cup every year, but we certainly can be in position to win the Cup every year and if we’ve done that, I think we’ve earned our paycheck.”
The Lighting are going to great lengths to keep Blackhawks fans out of Amalie Arena. Wirtz did not criticize the Lightning organization for the policy, which is being panned by critics throughout North America.
“A few years ago it didn’t matter if this was Chicago or Tampa Bay — we were lucky if we had 3,000 fans,” Wirtz said. “It is exciting. It’s a fine compliment to our fans that we have this many that will go on the road.”
But he did say that the the Hawks’ organization will not respond in kind. On the contrary …
“I can’t speak about Tampa Bay. But I can say that if there’s anyone from Tampa that wants to come to Chicago, we have a great city. You’re welcome to our city. You can spend [your] money in our city — go to museums, restaurants, bars. Heaven forbid we ever get anything from Wirtz Beverage off the bars.
“So please come. If I can say one thing to the fans of Tampa — come to Chicago, spend your money and leave a lot of green.”