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Blackhawks left with more cash to spend this time, and that suits them fine

Winger Michael Frolik who just finished final year his entry-level contract was Hawks’ biggest bonus recipient.  | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Winger Michael Frolik, who just finished the final year of his entry-level contract, was the Hawks’ biggest bonus recipient. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 23, 2011 2:09AM



When general manager Stan Bowman went to work this summer assembling his roster, he had an extra $4 million at his disposal.

Consider it a “bonus.”

Last year, the Hawks had more than $4.1 million of performance bonus overages from their Stanley Cup-winning season counting against the salary cap. This year, it’s significantly less. Bowman said there were about $100,000 worth of bonuses from last season counting against this year’s cap, notably from wingers Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg.

‘‘It’s nice to not have that penalty and have the full use of the salary cap at your disposal,’’ Bowman told the Sun-Times on Friday. ‘‘We’re in such a different spot. We’re probably going to go into the year with probably close to $4 million in cap space as well. That’s with a lot of players. . . . We were nowhere near that last year.’’

Frolik was the biggest recipient, Bowman said. He was in the final year of his entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers, who drafted him 10th overall in 2006. Stalberg, a former sixth-round pick who was in the last year of his original two-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, received a bonus for games played.

There basically are three types of players who can receive bonuses: rookies on entry-level contracts, veteran players coming off long-term injuries, and players 35 or older who sign one-year deals.

Bowman said rookies fall into two categories: first-round picks ‘‘who get the big bonuses for performance, awards, ice time, plus- minus and whatnot,’’ and later-round picks who get bonuses for games played.

For first-round picks, there are plenty of bonus categories, but also minimums to reach, such as 20 goals for forwards. All bonuses are negotiable and reflect only regular-season numbers. There’s a $212,500 maximum for each category, which is broken down by position.

There also are league-wide trophy and statistical performance bonuses that are set and paid by the NHL, but also by teams, if negotiated. A player can be paid a maximum of $2 million per season for league-wide bonuses.

The Hawks’ bonus overages last year were largely because Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane had standout regular seasons in the final year of their entry-level deals. Toews also received a major bonus for winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP.

The bonuses essentially prevented Bowman from keeping Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd or Kris Versteeg. But that’s the cost of having good, young players.

‘‘If you have a situation where you’re paying entry-level bonuses of that magnitude, then they had phenomenal seasons,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘They’re the reasons we won the Cup. I’d rather have the Cup than $4 million in cap space.’’

This year, the Hawks had to budget cap room for bonuses that Nick Leddy, Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin and others might get because they can’t carry over into next year with the collective bargaining agreement ending.

But Bowman said none of their bonuses — even for Leddy, the 16th overall pick in 2009 — will be anywhere close to what Toews and Kane received.

‘‘There is no bonus cushion this year,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘It’s a bit of challenge. There will be no overages this year. Fortunately, we don’t have guys in the [rookie] category of Toews or Kane. If we did, it would hurt. You’re counting those guys at their full cap number, even though you’re not paying them that much.’’



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