Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are the heart and soul of the Chicago Blackhawks. Both players have been with the team since 2007, and in those 7 years they have won 2 Stanley Cups and a Presidents Trophy. The Blackhawks are arguably one of the best teams in the entire NHL, partly due to two of the best players in the NHL, Toews and Kane. Both players careers’ are still young, but already they have won many awards for the Hawks, including a Calder Trophy and a Conn Smythe for Kane, as well as a Selke Trophy and another Conn Smythe for Toews. The two have combined for 933 points in 999 career games, all of which were played in a Chicago uniform. However, one half of the dynamic duo may be out of Chi-town come next summer, as both of them will be without a contract and eligible for unrestricted free agency.
Once the 2015-2016 season is over for the Blackhawks, GM Stan Bowman will have $29 million and a lot of choices to make. Including Toews and Kane, there will be 9 free agents on the team, including young guns like Nick Leddy and Brandon Saad, both of whom will receive big raises in salary. With the salary cap going up beginning to go up, we could start to see players commanding cap-hits upwards of $10 million a year, which is something that no player has ever had. Shea Weber is currently making $14 million a year, but his contract is set up so that his cap-hit is only $7.5 million per year (he is making $14 million now but he will only make $1 million for the last 3 years of the contract). The highest cap-hit in the league belongs to Alex Ovechkin, with $9.5 million a year, but soon enough it will be common to see players nowhere near as good as Ovie with the same cap-hit as him. This is all due to the influx of cash that the league got when commissioner Gary Bettman signed a 10-year $2 billion deal that gave all of the NHL’s digital rights to NBC in 2011. I believe that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, regardless of where they might be playing, are going to be the 1st players to benefit from the raised cap-ceiling, and that both players will carry a cap hit of no less than $12 million per year.
As I mentioned earlier, the Blackhawks will only have $29 million in cap space to work with to get the two players signed, no to mention the other 7 free agents they have. Signing Toews and Kane could easily cost more than $30 million, and that means that someone needs to be either traded or bought out. Stan Bowman’s top priority is keeping the dynamic duo intact, so trading Kane or Toews is a last option, but if it came to that, I believe that he would have to move Patrick Kane. This is because of the leadership value that Jonathan Toews has, after all, he is their captain. Toews is also a better all-around players than Kane, as he puts up tremendous numbers offensively, while still remaining one of the best defensive forwards in the league. The return for Patrick Kane would also be amazing. Via trade, he could command a 1st round pick, a top notch prospect, and two above-average NHL players. Even if Bowman managed to get all of those things, he would still be getting shortchanged. It would be impossible to get a fair return for either Kane or Toews because there’s no way that the Blackhawks, or the team that either one of them got traded to, would be a better team after the trade. In order for Chicago to be better than it was when both players were playing for them, a team would have to give up 2 above average NHL players, a player on the brink of stardom, at least 1 top-notch prospect, and at least 1 first-round draft choice. No team would be willing to give that up, no matter how good the player they’re getting back is. That’s why the ‘Hawks would have to trade someone else.
Aside from Kane and Toews, that highest cap-hits on the Blackhawks belong to Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Nicklas Hjalmarsson, and Bryan Bickel. Each of those players have a cap-hit of $4 million or more, and aside from Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, all of them could be trade options. I believe that the most likely candidate would be Bryan Bickel, as he is only making $4 million for his ability to turn it on during the playoffs. In the regular season, Bickel is nearly invisible, and is certainly not worth anything near the money he is making. This makes him the best choice to trade, but it also makes him the hardest player to trade, because he would only be worth it to teams who are perennial contenders, but even if someone is willing to acquire him, the Blackhawks would almost certainly have to retain some of his salary, which makes the trade pointless. Because of this, I believe that the next best player to move would be Marian Hossa. Hossa is a great player, and he has been for his entire career, but by the time Kane and Toews’ contracts are up, he will be 36 and still carrying his $5.3 million cap hit. Parting with him won’t be easy, as he’s been an essential part of the Blackhawks core ever since he joined the team in 2009, but if someone’s got to go, I believe it should be him.
If Stan Bowman does decide to trade Marian Hossa, the extra money will go a long way. I believe he can convince one of the players (most likely Jonathan Toews) to take a hometown discount, which I’m sure either Kane or Toews would be happy to do considering neither of them has any reason to want to leave Chicago. We still have a year until the issue of their contracts is at hand, but can assure you that the last thing Stan Bowman thinks about before he goes to bed every night is what he can do to sign both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.