Despite their loss in the Western Conference Finals, it’s safe to say the Chicago Blackhawks have built a modern day powerhouse. They’ve found great success on the backs on two superstar top five picks (Buffalo native Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews), another second round pick who developed into a Norris Trophy candidate (Duncan Keith), and a boat load of depth behind all that. They’ve won two Stanley Cups and when they haven’t won the Stanley Cup the following year, they’ve pushed their opponent to the brink each time.
Now if the Blackhawks want the ride to keep chugging along beyond the 2014 season, they’ll need to find another long term contract for their two star forwards, Kane and Toews. Given that the two are entering the final year of matching contracts and they both employ the same agent, it’s fair to say each is due a raise in the next term, likely for the same amount.
So the question for Sabres fans pondering life with two top stars (or even one to start) is how much is a top tandem like Kane and Toews worth? It’s easy to say they should be the highest paid tandem in the league because of their production and prime years ahead, but where does that leave Chicago if they’re trying to maintain depth? Would paying Kane/Toews their market value allow the Blackhawks to remain as competitive as they’ve been in the last four years?
Should Kane and Toews sign on for contracts similar to those of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (combined for $18.2M against the cap) that would essentially be like the Blackhawks signing on a third player, given that the two currently combine for $12.6M against the cap.
Part of what has made the Blackhawks such a force is their depth to complement that top end talent. GM Stan Bowman will have no chance but to pay these two in the range of $8M or more annually each. Anything less would be a serious hometown discount (and entirely possible given the situation), but even that might result in some more roster shakeups, much like we saw after the Hawks won the Cup in 2010.
Right now, Chicago has $50M in salaries committed to the 2015-16 season, when the new contracts will begin for Kane/Toews. Add in that rough $16M guess for the two and you have $66M devoted to 12 players. Even if Kane and Toews are feeling super generous and scale it back to $7M or so, that $64M for 12 players. Stan Bowman had better cross his fingers that the cap shoots sky high by then.
What separates Chicago and LA from the rest of the league is their ability to roll four lines that can all be a threat to score. When you start making your team too top heavy, you get something like you have with Pittsburgh, who can’t find enough quality guys to complement their top guys. When you misallocate those funds on the wrong top guys altogether, you get something like what the Buffalo Sabres have been dealing with for a few years now.
As Sabres fans get swept up in the excitement of the second overall pick this year (and probably a pretty high pick or two next year) it seems like a good time to wonder how many big salaries a team can handle. We always talk about getting elite talent. The Sabres need elite players and they’re sitting at the top of the draft, right? But in the cap age, elite players eventually mean elite salaries. Too much of such a thing is a great problem to have of course, and it’s one we Sabres fans hope to have some day. So since we’re here and we’re bored waiting for the draft, let’s try another hypothetical discussion.
How many top tier superstars does a team need to be an annual Stanley Cup contender? We have a shot at one this year, maybe two next year. Is three enough? If the chips fall in our favor in 2015 and we land in the top three of the draft again, can we start to say that we have a core around which to build? Obviously we don’t know the players who will be picked or if they’d be a shadow of Kane/Toews, but we also can’t rule out that they could come pretty darn close.
What do you think? Leave your answer in the comments, citing cap expense, history of success, long term chemistry and whatever else I’m not thinking of to support your idea. Any and all answers and reasons are welcome.