DES­PER­ATE FOR A WAY OUT

HAWKS PAY­ING HARD FOR SEABROOK DEAL, WHICH MAY CRIP­PLE WHAT THEY CAN DO UN­DER STAG­NAT­ING SALARY CAP

Chicago Sun-Times - - BLACKHAWKS BEAT - BY BEN POPE BPOPE@SUN­TIMES.COM @BENPOPECST

The ghastly na­ture of Brent Seabrook’s con­tract is well-known. And its im­pact on the Black­hawks is, un­be­liev­ably, about to get even worse.

The eight-year deal, which was signed in 2015 and went into ef­fect in 2016, has four years left with an an­nual salary-cap hit of $6.875 mil­lion. It’s ar­guably the worst de­ci­sion of gen­eral man­ager Stan Bowman’s event­ful ten­ure — tied, at least, with the in­clu­sion of up-and-com­ing winger Teuvo Ter­a­vainen in the Bryan Bick­ell salary-dump trade in 2016.

Ev­ery­thing about the con­tract works against the Hawks, even be­yond the cap hit, which vastly over­es­ti­mates Seabrook’s value and longevity at this stage of the 35-year-old de­fense­man’s ca­reer.

For starters, a huge por­tion of Seabrook’s salary is tied up in an an­nual sign­ing bonus that can­not be bought out, ren­der­ing any con­tract buy­out pointless. The deal also in­cludes a full no-move­ment clause, mean­ing the Hawks can’t trade Seabrook to a low­pay­roll team without his per­mis­sion be­fore 2022. The no-move­ment clause also would the­o­ret­i­cally re­quire the Hawks to use a valu­able pro­tected spot on Seabrook in the 2021 Seat­tle NHL ex­pan­sion draft, mean­ing an el­i­gi­ble young player such as winger Alex Ny­lan­der or de­fense­man Lu­cas Carls­son would be ex­posed in­stead.

The Hawks aren’t plan­ning to force Seabrook to ride out his ca­reer on long-term in­jured re­serve (a la Mar­ian Hossa), de­spite three surg­eries on his hips and right shoul­der last win­ter. By all ac­counts, he re­mains on track to be at full health this fall.

Last sum­mer, Seabrook’s con­tract was ranked the worst in the NHL by The Ath­letic’s Dom Luszczyszy­n. And Seabrook, de­spite his in­te­gral role in the Hawks’ dy­nasty era, has be­come a tar­get of fan an­i­mos­ity.

Which bring us to now. Seabrook’s con­tract isn’t chang­ing, but the flex­i­bil­ity and cap room around him is shrink­ing sig­nif­i­cantly from what the Hawks ex­pected.

The salary cap will stay flat at $81.5 mil­lion next sea­son, ac­cord­ing to Sport­snet’s El­liotte Fried­man, rather than ris­ing into the $84-$88 mil­lion range, as once was pro­jected. And it may stay there be­yond next sea­son. Fried­man wrote Fri­day that the own­ers and play­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion “are talk­ing about keep­ing it there un­til rev­enues hit $4.8 bil­lion.” Even when that point is reached, an­nual caps will be de­ter­mined based on league rev­enues from two years ear­lier, not one year ear­lier like it used to be.

In ad­di­tion, com­pli­ance buy­outs, which com­pletely clear con­tracts from the books, are cur­rently not ex­pected to be made avail­able, as they were af­ter the 2013 lock­out slowed rev­enue growth — sim­i­lar to what’s hap­pen­ing dur­ing the coron­avirus pan­demic.

Those most likely to be af­fected by the stag­nant cap and the ab­sence of any easy es­cape routes are play­ers hit­ting free agency this off­sea­son or next; they could have a tough time con­vinc­ing cash-strapped GMs to pay them fair value. A ma­jor­ity of NHL teams will feel the im­pact, not just the Hawks.

But few teams have quite as much money tied up in their core play­ers as the Hawks do, and none has a sin­gle con­tract as bloated and ob­struc­tive as Seabrook’s.

That could equate to an­other kick in the re­build­ing di­rec­tion for the Hawks, who al­ready had a case for launch­ing a re­build in 2020, con­sid­er­ing their va­cant pres­i­dency and lack of suc­cess the last three years.

How­ever, while Bowman wouldn’t have a dif­fi­cult time find­ing tak­ers for Pa­trick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Dun­can Keith and other iconic Hawks, no amount of burn­ing it down would open up a trade mar­ket for Seabrook.

The Hawks are stuck with an al­ba­tross. And its shadow is grow­ing. ✶

JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES

At 35, Brent Seabrook has a con­tract that car­ries a $6.875 mil­lion cap hit the next four sea­sons and is heavy on promised an­nual sign­ing bonuses. The Hawks also can’t trade him without his per­mis­sion be­fore 2022.

The Hawks’ fi­nances may pres­sure them into a re­build, which could mean they say good­bye to Jonathan Toews (left), Pa­trick Kane (rear) and/or Dun­can Keith. NAM Y. HUH/AP

AMR ALFIKY/AP

GM Stan Bowman is in a pickle.

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