Problem: With the introduction of the salary cap, teams have trouble remaining competitive, as they are forced to lose important players to other teams because they simply can’t afford to keep them all. Not to mention, in order to acquire “impact players”, you typically need to be lower in the standings to get a top 5 or top 10 pick in the draft. An organization can’t consistently expect to pick up late round “gems” that will evolve into impact players. The conclusion is that teams that are considered elite often have a 3-year window to win a cup, after which their team will start dismantling because of the aforementioned issues.
Solution: The BlackHawk Theory
The BlackHawk theory assumes that once you have acquired your “core players” (approximately 4 forwards, 2 defenseman, 1 goalie), any other players that have success are assumed to be a product of the system and a result of the strength of the core, and are therefore deemed replaceable. They drive up the value of these useful players and when the value is high enough to yield a strong return, they ship them out for quality prospects that the successful club would not be able to acquire in a draft. They then plug these new players into the vacancies left by the traded players, and at the end of the day you’re getting the same contributions, just spending less money.
Exhibit A was trading Dustin Byfuglien to the Atlanta Thrashers, with the centerpiece of the return being a high-end prospect in Jeremy Morin and a 1st round pick. Byfuglien has 1 year left on a contract that pays him $3 million dollars, while Morin is on a 3-year entry-level deal for just under $1 million. Byfuglien has never scored 20 goals in a season, but happened to elevate his game in the playoffs and drove up his stock in part because he played the majority of the postseason with core players Toews and Kane. Morin on the other hand scored 47 goals in the OHL this past season and looks to be emerging as a quality prospect. The immediate advantage goes to Atlanta, but Chicago acquires the better player in the long run.
Exhibit B was Chicago trading Kris Versteeg (salary north of $3 million per season) and unsigned prospect Bill Sweatt to Toronto for Viktor Stalberg, Chris DiDomenico and Philippe Paradis. Versteeg was a 20-goal scorer in the WHL, a 20-goal scorer in the AHL and is now a 20-goal scorer in the NHL. Versteeg is a skilled player, but more of a complimentary top 6 forward than a guy who can carry a line – he never has at any level. Regardless, back-to-back 20-goal seasons = stock high = time to sell. Can Viktor Stalberg who was a 20-goal guy in NCAA get to that level in the NHL? Can Chris DiDomenico who averaged over a point per game in the QMJHL do the same in the NHL? Can Paradis translate his success in the QMJHL as a solid 2-way player to pro hockey? Odds are that the answer to at least one of those questions is YES, and it will happen sooner rather than later. Assuming that’s true, Chicago will have once again successfully swapped one of their replaceable players for a new/equally effective one; once again at a fraction of the cost.
The Chicago BlackHawks are creating a new formula for cap management in the NHL, and assuming they are successful, look for teams to copy that system in the future, rather than waiting for big contracts to expire and losing assets for nothing in return. It’s not the best way to keep an entire team together, but it’s far and away the most effective method of managing your cap and remaining competitive over an extended period of time. Only time will tell, however, if Stan Bowman and the Chicago BlackHawks have revolutionized the way NHL General Managers will structure their teams.
About the Author
Written by Corey Krakower
I am the Director of NHL Content & Habs writer for ProSportsBlogging.com; I have spent 8 seasons behind the bench as a minor hockey coach; and I am the future GM of the Montreal Canadiens (according to my mom). I spend my days managing the Harrow Sports brand in my hometown of Montreal and I moonlight as a Hockey Advisor for Pi Athlete Management. Most importantly, I'll throw anyone under the bus for a laugh.