The Blackhawks’ salary cap situation, if playing it safe, remains tight.
They have about $5.2 million left to re-sign restricted free agent Dylan Strome and leave room for in-season moves, per CapFriendly.
But it’s actually possible they have upwards of $19 million in cap space right now.
That all depends on the injury statuses of three expensive veteran players: Brent Seabrook, Andrew Shaw and Zack Smith.
If healthy, they’ll each make massive dents in the Hawks’ contract chart: Seabrook infamously has four years left on his contract with a $6.875 million cap hit; Shaw has two years left with a $3.9 million cap hit; Smith has one year left with a $3.25 million cap hit. Collectively, that’s nearly 20% of the team’s total current cap hit.
They might not be healthy, though. And if they aren’t, they can be placed on Long-Term Injured Reserve (commonly called LTIR) and not count against the cap at all.
Their penciled-in roster spots would need replacements, yes, and those replacements would mitigate the cap savings — but only slightly, given that they’d likely be AHL players or prospects making under $1 million each.
So the uncertain health statuses of the three players will have a huge impact on the Hawks’ financial and roster-building outlook moving forward. Here’s what we know about how each guy is doing.
The 35-year-old defensemen underwent a trifecta of surgeries on his right shoulder, right hip and left hip in December and January and hasn’t played since.
Seabrook participated in most of the Hawks’ July training camp but announced shortly before the team departed for the playoff bubble that he didn’t feel game-ready enough to come along.
He said he physically felt better than he had in years, however, and expected to be ready for the 2020-21 season if the Hawks still had a place for him on the roster. The relationship between Seabrook and Hawks management, in large part due to his albatross contract, has grown strained in recent years.
With Seabrook enforcing a complete no-movement clause, it seems very unlikely he’ll be traded this offseason. In the meantime, he continues to prepare, which general manager Stan Bowman gave an update on earlier this month.
“He was looking pretty good back in July; he was close to being ready to join us in Edmonton,” Bowman said. “It’s been a few months since then and there’s been no setbacks. I know he’s training. I would imagine he’s on track.”
Thus, the Hawks are planning — and logically so — on Seabrook’s nearly $7 million cap hit returning to the official books next season. Considering how tumultuous his past few years have been, though, no possibilities can be counted out.
The 29-year-old forward hasn’t played since Nov. 30, 2019, after suffering yet another concussion in a career plagued with them.
He posted an update on Instagram in July, announcing he’d forgo the playoffs but planned to be ready for the 2020-21 season.
“I feel healthy and am close to fully being healed from not just my last concussion but from others I have had over the years,” Shaw wrote. “We have come to the difficult decision that these extra five months until next season would be great for my health and recovery. I look forward to being back next season better and stronger than ever!”
Shaw hasn’t spoken publicly since, but a source said this week that he is “progressing very well.”
Thus, like with Seabrook, the Hawks are planning to have Shaw back next year. The fickleness of concussions, though, means it’s difficult to make any guarantees until the time comes.
If Shaw does return, he could help the Hawks out significantly with his unique combination of toughness and scoring touch. He set a career high with 47 points in 63 games with the Canadiens as recently as 2018-19.
The 32-year-old forward hasn’t played since undergoing back surgery at the beginning of March.
Initially expected to miss three-to-four months — the least amount of time out of the injured trio — Smith’s health now looks the iffiest of all heading toward next season.
He didn’t practice or play at all in the July-August NHL restart. And his agent, Allain Roy, gave an optimistic but far-from-certain update Monday about his status.
“It’s going okay,” Roy said. “He’s improving every day. Not cleared yet. Nothing major to report there. The fact that we’ve got some extra time here [before next season], probably until January, will help. We’ll see where it goes.”
Smith’s longer-than-anticipated recovery timeframe has adversely affected the Hawks in numerous ways. Bowman probably would have bought out Smith, a move that would have saved $2.16 million, before the Oct. 8 deadline if he wasn’t still injured. That extra space could’ve given the Hawks enough flexibility and financial confidence to increase their offer to — and potentially re-sign — Corey Crawford.
Instead, the Hawks’ goalie situation is a mess and they’re also stuck with Smith, an aging and now injury-plagued wing who scored just 11 points in 50 games last season.
The Hawks will certainly root for Smith to recover by January for his own sake, but if he doesn’t, the $3.25 million in LTIR savings would be quite nice.