The ghastly nature of Brent Seabrook’s contract is well-known. And its impact on the Blackhawks is, unbelievably, about to get even worse.
The eight-year deal, which was signed in 2015 and went into effect in 2016, has four years left with an annual salary-cap hit of $6.875 million. It’s arguably the worst decision of general manager Stan Bowman’s eventful tenure — tied, at least, with the inclusion of up-and-coming winger Teuvo Teravainen in the Bryan Bickell salary-dump trade in 2016.
Everything about the contract works against the Hawks, even beyond the cap hit, which vastly overestimates Seabrook’s value and longevity at this stage of the 35-year-old defenseman’s career.
For starters, a huge portion of Seabrook’s salary is tied up in an annual signing bonus that cannot be bought out, rendering any contract buyout pointless. The deal also includes a full no-movement clause, meaning the Hawks can’t trade Seabrook to a low-payroll team without his permission before 2022. The no-movement clause also would theoretically require the Hawks to use a valuable protected spot on Seabrook in the 2021 Seattle NHL expansion draft, meaning an eligible young player such as winger Alex Nylander or defenseman Lucas Carlsson would be exposed instead.
The Hawks aren’t planning to force Seabrook to ride out his career on long-term injured reserve (a la Marian Hossa), despite three surgeries on his hips and right shoulder last winter. By all accounts, he remains on track to be at full health this fall.
Last summer, Seabrook’s contract was ranked the worst in the NHL by The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn. And Seabrook, despite his integral role in the Hawks’ dynasty era, has become a target of fan animosity.
Which bring us to now. Seabrook’s contract isn’t changing, but the flexibility and cap room around him is shrinking significantly from what the Hawks expected.
The salary cap will stay flat at $81.5 million next season, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, rather than rising into the $84-$88 million range, as once was projected. And it may stay there beyond next season. Friedman wrote Friday that the owners and players’ association “are talking about keeping it there until revenues hit $4.8 billion.” Even when that point is reached, annual caps will be determined based on league revenues from two years earlier, not one year earlier like it used to be.
In addition, compliance buyouts, which completely clear contracts from the books, are currently not expected to be made available, as they were after the 2013 lockout slowed revenue growth — similar to what’s happening during the coronavirus pandemic.
Those most likely to be affected by the stagnant cap and the absence of any easy escape routes are players hitting free agency this offseason or next; they could have a tough time convincing cash-strapped GMs to pay them fair value. A majority of NHL teams will feel the impact, not just the Hawks.
But few teams have quite as much money tied up in their core players as the Hawks do, and none has a single contract as bloated and obstructive as Seabrook’s.
That could equate to another kick in the rebuilding direction for the Hawks, who already had a case for launching a rebuild in 2020, considering their vacant presidency and lack of success the last three years.
However, while Bowman wouldn’t have a difficult time finding takers for Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and other iconic Hawks, no amount of burning it down would open up a trade market for Seabrook.
The Hawks are stuck with an albatross. And its shadow is growing.