Why the Blackhawks will likely stay quiet during free agency

Across the NHL, deals will be flying Saturday as free agency opens, but outside of a likely trade of Marcus Kruger, the Blackhawks figure to stay relatively quiet.

Salary-cap constraints and Marian Hossa's contract status are combining to limit the Hawks' options. They have a couple pertaining to Hossa, but the likeliest — placing Hossa on long-term injured reserve after the season begins — would leave them little room to maneuver this summer. There's is a chance of a reunion with former Hawk Patrick Sharp, who's a free agent coming off hip surgery. At 35, he might have to accept a discounted salary to return.

The Hawks enter free agency about $3 million over the $75 million salary cap, according to Capfriendly.com. The expected trade of Kruger and his $3.083 million cap hit to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights would put the Hawks just under the limit.

There was a perception after Hossa announced he will not play next season and potentially beyond because of a skin disorder that the Hawks could simply place him on LTIR and sign someone this summer to replace his $5.275 million cap hit. But as general manager Stan Bowman said last week, the process is not that easy and the Hawks have less cap flexibility than some might think.

Theoretically, the Hawks could sign someone for Hossa's cap hit this summer and place Hossa on LTIR just before the season. But the problem is once they do that, their upper limit on the salary cap is set for the season, leaving Bowman no room to maneuver the roster in season.

So if a player got hurt and the Hawks had to recall someone from Rockford, they might end up exceeding the cap. Taking that route also would limit what Bowman could do at the trade deadline because he would have no cap space.

If the Hawks carry Hossa's cap hit into the season — as a source said is likely — and then place him on LTIR after the season begins, Bowman could then exceed the cap by up to $5.275 million. That would give him ammunition to boost the roster in case of injury, sign other players or make trades.

The free-agent market is dried up by October, leaving the Hawks few, if any, notable free agents to sign. However, taking this route would give Bowman flexibility to maneuver the roster in season — and could make the Hawks major players on the trade market.

If the Hawks were to make a major splash in free agency, they would likely have to trade another player — difficult given the number of no-movement clauses in the contracts of their remaining big-money players — or trade Hossa's contract to a team trying to reach the salary floor.

Hossa makes a $1 million salary in each of the four years remaining on his front-loaded 12-year contract, an attractive figure to a team trying to reach the cap floor without having to pay much in actual money. But it's asking a lot for a team to take on four years of a dead contract, and a source said the market for such a deal is not good.

This means the possibility of the Hawks bringing in a big name is far-fetched. Sharp reportedly is interested in rejoining the Hawks, but cap space might be a serious roadblock because of the above scenarios involving Hossa. Any free agents the Hawks sign would have to be low-cost ones, leaving Bowman room to shape the roster to get under the cap before next season.

The Hawks will get cap relief from Hossa going on LTIR, but they will likely have to wait a while to get it.


Twitter @ChristopherHine

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