30 IN 30 - CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (3rd place)
Despite the state of competition being alive and well in the central division, Toews, Kane & Associates captured top spot in the West. But spring time hockey has once again revealed the team's great undoing: a lack of depth. After back to back first round playoff exits, the make-up of this lineup may finally be in question, just two years removed from their last Stanley Cup. Any team that ties itself to two players for the grand total of $21.0M per season is gonna feel the cap crunch. With an incremental salary cap increase restriction of 5% per year at the discretion of the league and its players' union, the Hawks could be 2-3 years away from true cap relief. In the meantime, Chicago management will have to take a cleaver to the group of 10 players that constitute roughly $63.0M of their cap hit (allowing just $10.0M for the rest of the team). It's understandable that a man in Stan Bowman's position was in a tough spot after his team won 3 Cups in 6 years, but signing a player like Brent Seabrook to an 8 year deal worth $55.0M at the age of 31 is just financially irresponsible. Anyways... it will be interesting to see which teams will come to the aid of the Blackhawks in their journey to get under the salary cap. The Golden Knights have already extended a helping hand; was the trade one-sided enough to convince others?
PROTECTION LIST STRUCTURE
- Toews (*NMC)
- Kane (*NMC)
- Anisimov (*NMC)
- Hossa (*NMC)
- Keith (*NMC)
- Seabrook (*NMC)
- Hjalmarsson (*NMC)
- Crawford (*NMC)
The excitement around the Blackhawks expansion selection has already come and gone. With a deal already rumoured to be in place, it appears Trevor van Riemsdyk will be heading down to Las Vegas alongside winger Marcus Kruger. This deal clearly benefits the Hawks in their long arduous quest for cap relief, shedding $3.083M from their roster. Such a drop brings them ever closer to getting under the salary cap limit, albeit at the cost of one of their few young, cheap defensive contributors.
With this surefire selection in place, let's take a look at the two players the Vegas Golden Knights will obtain from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Kruger has been a key defensive-minded forward amongst a predominantly offensive group. His zone adjusted starts produce outrageous totals, as the Blackhawks coaching staff have used him in the defensive zone 2-3 times that of the offensive or neutral zone. Justifiably so, his shot based possession numbers deserve a boost from this utilization. Surprisingly, he remains above league average without this additional support. What catches our eye as a cause for concern are the yearly swings in his goal differential and devastatingly low on-ice shooting percentage in 2014-15 and 2015-16. As a defensive forward, one would expect a dip below team average, but Kruger's -13.3 and -15.2 relative goals for percentage (GF%Rel), and 4.25 and 3.88 shooting percentage (Sh%) in these years prior, make his recovery back to average look like more of an outlier than his standard rate. The switch to a Vegas team who will, more likely than not, struggle with goal production will predictably hurt Kruger's statistical output. Although he may provide Stanley Cup experience in a checking role, so will a player like Trevor Lewis who comes at a cheaper rate and higher offensive totals. Granted his contract is manageable, and he provides help in the face-off circle, Kruger will by no means be a negative influence on this Vegas team, he merely helps George McPhee double down on his team's expected bottom-6 forward strength.
TREVOR VAN RIEMSDYK
No hard feelings Marcus Kruger, but this trade was made with the direct intention of acquiring Trevor van Riemsdyk through the expansion draft. The young defender had quite the season alongside veteran D-man Brian Campbell on Chicago's 3rd defensive pair. Arbitrary lineup ranking aside, Van Riemsdyk logged significant ice-time behind the Blackhawks' forwards Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, showing the team's confidence in his puck-moving ability. With a ridiculous 60.7 GF% and 103.6 PDO he displays the statistical make up of a solid two-way defender. Whether he's able handle heavy minutes on a less offensively gifted team or not is a question left to be answered next season. But this sort of player development risk is a necessary one for Vegas to take in order to flush out the potential top-tier talent hidden in the younger players available through expansion. At the very least he's a capable right shot NHL defender, a commodity that can flipped to another team in a heartbeat.
Would we have done it?
The Blackhawks are in a more than difficult position with the cap. As a Western Conference foe, we definitely would not have taken this deal from the Blackhawks. GM Stan Bowman is desperate, and the need for him to shed players at below market rate is evident. In order to protect Van Riemsdyk, the Blackhawks would have needed one of their defencemen currently under protection to waive their NMC. The obvious candidate would have been Brent Seabrook and his all-time terrible contract (well, not terrible for him). Was it such a guarantee that he would be willing do to that? Maybe... maybe not, but convincing a player with such success to put himself at risk of selection is a lot harder than one may think. In our opinion, taking on the same quality of player (a checking line forward) readily available through the expansion draft alongside a low value draft pick (rumoured to be 3rd round), in exchange for 'leaving' Van Riemsdyk available isn't the best deal. As an opposing GM competing directly against a team with Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews in their lineup, wouldn't you look to squeeze more out of them? What leverage does Chicago have? Few teams have the protection list space to take on another D-man without losing one of their own in the expansion process. Rejecting this trade forces the Hawks to either up the ante or look elsewhere for an even worse deal. So without Nick Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat or a future 1st round draft pick in the conversation as a sweetener we would've hung up the phone on Stan Bowman and gambled on the their ability to either protect or trade Trevor Van Riemsdyk before June 17th.
Next up: Pittsburgh Penguins