Got a great email from a Blackhawks fan yesterday that's worth talking about:
Hi there James,
I have a cap-related question I thought I might ask, because I'm finding it very difficult to gather the details myself. Naturally, as a Hawks fan, this relates to Chicago's cap position.
I've read the relevant section in the CBA (50.5(h), if memory serves, about performance bonuses), and much of the language used requires the reading of prior sections in order (for me, anyway) to adequately interpret it. I have the brain but not the patience to do so, unfortunately. I understand that any club can exceed $56.8-million by what amounts to $4.26-million this year, so that the cap in effect becomes $61.06-million. But where I lose ground is in determining just how, exactly, that affects the team for the next year, if at all. Plain and simple: if Chicago were to exceed $56.8-million by x dollars, does their upper limit of their cap the following year then decrease by x (assuming, of course, that all the bonuses are met)? As well, is the determination of the cap, as regards performance bonuses anyway, made at the start of the season or at the trade deadline (another potential factor I read about, which seemed fishy to me)?
There's no way Chicago would carry an excess into or through this year if it were to count against them when Toews, Kane and Keith are each due their increases [next season]. I'm asking because everyone everywhere is talking about Chicago being above the cap, below the cap, desperate to make a move, set for the year, etc., etc.; and I'm asking you because I respect your opinion and figured if you don't know for certain, you'd at least be able to point me in the right direction.
It seems odd that such basic information is so hard to come by, with such wildly divergent opinions on something that's ostensibly written somewhere "in stone"? Anyway, thanks so much again, and thanks for any light you can shed on this!
A bit long, I know, but he's definitely on the right path here and his figures as to the "bonus cushion" by which teams can exceed the cap are right on. I sent him this brief response with the relevant cap-related details:
"Basically, because 2010 is not a year in which the CBA can end, teams are able to have bonuses put them over the cap and then carry that excess over into 2010-11. As a result, they are allowed to, all season, go over the cap to the extent bonuses cause that issue, but if players hit all of their targets, by season's end they'll have a huge charge to next year's cap. (Which we've already heard will likely be lower than this season's.)"
NHLSCAP.com has many of the relevant details here.
By my count, Chicago is spending about $57.6-million to this point, and that includes the full complement of 12 forwards, six defencemen and two goaltenders. The two bonuses that allow them to exceed the $56.8-million cap come from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who will earn just $850,000 and $8750,000 in base salary this season.
If neither hits a single bonus, as unlikely as that sounds, the Blackhawks can play the entire season with their current roster and finish $4.2-million under the salary cap.
Now, many of the entry-level bonuses are easy to hit, especially for front-line players like Toews and Kane, so Chicago won't quite be that far under, but they can certainly enter the season with their current lineup. If either player is hurt in the early going, they could easily fail to reach their bonuses and those they miss will be lifted from the cap. If both play well and begin to hit those targets, GM Dale Tallon will have to shuttle out someone like Brent Sopel ($2.33-million this season and next) to another team or the minors and continue on his merry way.
Where the 'Hawks will likely have a critical issue with the cap will be next season, when both Toews and Kane are off their entry-level deals and there will be no bonus cushion under the cap. Trading players like Sopel or Dustin Byfuglien, who have decent sized charges against both this and next season's caps, makes a lot of sense.
But it's not mandatory, and because Toews and Kane are still so young and on entry-level contracts, it affords Chicago a lot of leeway going into this season. I'm sure that's a major part of the reason that they're going for it in 2009-10.