April 17, 2014
Signing Corey Crawford and Niklas Hjalmarsson to lucrative contract extensions was a no-brainer, according to Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman. As for the looming contract negotiations with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, it was pretty much no comment, even as the first question in the conference call Wednesday with reporters — with Hjalmarsson on the phone from Sweden — was to Bowman about the Hawks’ dynamic duo.
That triggered a brief — if unrealistic — wave of panic among Hawks fans, who wondered if the $10.1 million a season given to Crawford and Hjalmarsson might affect the team’s ability to keep its two biggest stars when their contracts expire after the 2014-15 season.
Bowman took to the team website Friday to emphatically put that issue to bed. He said that money won’t be an issue and that Toews and Kane aren’t going anywhere.
“Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will be here forever,” Bowman told the team website. “I can’t predict what the salary cap will be in the near future, but I can tell you that Jonathan and Patrick will be on this team. Those two players put the Blackhawks back on the map, they’re up in a couple years, and whatever the numbers are, we’ll figure out the details. The notion that the money we’re spending now will affect our ability to keep Jonathan and Kane … it’s a non-issue. They will be here no matter what.”
Of course, that’s hardly a surprise. At just 25 and 24, respectively, Toews and Kane already have entrenched themselves as Chicago icons, helping to raise a moribund Hawks franchise from the near-dead, each winning a Conn Smythe Trophy in leading the team to a championship.
Making the numbers work could be tricky, though, depending on how much the salary cap rises in the next two years from its current, post-lockout ceiling of $64.3 million. The Hawks have only seven players — Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell, Crawford and Hjalmarsson — signed for 2015-16, with a cap hit already at about $36.6 million.
Toews and Kane are signed to matching five-year deals worth an average of $6.3 million per season through the next two years. The Hawks can begin negotiating extensions July 1, 2014, and they certainly will.
But the Hawks can expect to pay as much or more than the Pittsburgh Penguins have for their dynamic duo. Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million a year) and Evgeni Malkin ($9.5 million) are signed through 2025 and 2022, respectively, for a combined $18.2 million annual cap hit. And Pat Brisson — the agent for Toews and Kane — surely saw Bowman’s promise Friday.
“I’m not trying to play prognosticator on the cap,” Bowman said Wednesday. “Traditionally, it’s risen. If the game continues to go the way it is, it should continue to increase. Now, the rate of increase is something we can debate all day. The way I look at [the Crawford and Hjalmarsson] signings, though, is when you find good players, you’ve got to keep them.”