It should come as no surprise that today, as Dom Luszczyszyn at The Athletic broke down the most financially efficient teams and the most very much not, the Hawks are at the bottom of the list. They’re only ahead of known basketcases Los Angeles and Detroit, so there’s something to feel good about.
Ruining most of the Hawks’ chances is the Seabrook contract, and we’ve run enough miles on that one for now. What’s really galling about it is that the Hawks couldn’t wait to tell you about all the cap space they had this summer, and how finally they could do some things to improve. And what that got you was Olli Maatta, Calvin de Haan, and Andrew Shaw. A terrible defenseman, a decent one who really is at most a middle pairing guy, and a utility winger who will probably be played over his head simply because of name recognition. In the interest of fairness, it also got you what is probably a pretty good goalie at worst, a really good one at best, though you already had one of those.
The problem for the Hawks is that they keep playing in the part of the market that hamstrings a team, and that’s the middle. In a cap era, you pay for the top talent, you scout veraciously at the bottom to keep things cheap there, and that’s how you fill out the roster. Forking over $8.5M combined for Maatta and de Haan, guys who are no more than #4 or #6 d-men, is how you end up in trouble again. The galling thing about Maatta is he was acquired for a player who gave you more value to what you were paying him in Dominik Kahun. Perhaps you’ve replaced Kahun with Kubalik, but having both probably would have negated the desire or need for Andrew Shaw, if such a thing actually existed. Shaw is, at least right now, probably better than both of those players but $3M better?
Once again, the Hawks seemed to have failed to learn the lessons of why they were good way back when. Then they paid Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Crawford (to a lesser extent Oduya). Behind that were Saad, Shaw, Leddy, Kruger who were essentially on nothing or entry-level deals. The Hawks got themselves in that mess partially when they handed a support player a “middle” contract, Bryan Bickell. They watched Seabrook become that.
Up front, they’ve gotten middling production from Saad for what is barely top of the line money. That’s after they had top of the line production from Panarin for value, considering he didn’t get paid until this summer. Once again, name recognition and the need for it did the Hawks in, even if Saad has been ok.
And it’s a problem going on down the road. The only cap space the Hawks have in ’20-’21 is thanks to both goalies being unrestricted free agents, except someone is going to have to play goal. And now that you’ve erased any of Collin Delia’s NHL time, you have no idea if it could have been him. The $19M the Hawks have in space for next year, which might only raise to $20M or $21M, is almost certainly all swallowed up by DeBrincat, Strome if he comes along, and whichever of the two goalies you choose to keep.
Which means Erik Gustafsson is gone, which means he probably shouldn’t be here now, but there’s another topic we’ve gone 15 rounds on. So there’s Adam Boqvist’s spot opened up, assuming he doesn’t force his way in this year. But how do you get Ian Mitchell in? Moving Maatta and de Haan along again? You might not get so lucky into getting them while not having to take bad contracts back. Connor Murphy? Unless his back goes out again moving Murphy out and Mitchell in is probably a lateral move to start, though obviously makes you cheaper. And you’re still pretty thin.
The Hawks have also missed with some bottom, cheap talent that they need to provide more value than their paycheck says. Brendan Perlini failed to live up to that, Drake Caggiula was hit and miss and hurt (though another one who could do most of what Shaw does at a far cheaper rate).
As we mentioned on the podcast, the reckoning with Seabrook can’t be put off too much longer. They seemed to think they had to avoid it this year by moving Jokiharju along and figuring Boqvist is a longshot to make the team. That won’t last, as Boqvist will have to be ready in 2020 and after three years at college, Mitchell shouldn’t need much seasoning if any at all.
The Hawks seem to get it in that they want to pay DeBrincat and Strome, who are top of the roster. But how does that arc the Hawks up in the coming years? They’ll barely have enough room to cram in forwards on entry-level deals to level this out like Dach, Kurashev, or Nylander (and that’s even if they don’t sign Perlini).
The Hawks told you they did all their digging. All it was was a rest, because they’ll have to keep doing more next summer, too.