The Stanley Cup Trap – A Bottom Feeder’s Relish

Today’s salary cap ridden NHL forces general managers into a success trap. The better your team performs, the more you’ll pay for it later, literally. The 09/10 Stanley Cup winners present a perfect example, as Stan Bowman suddenly found himself with a championship team full of young stars waiting for pay raises. Even with the salary cap to be raised from $56.8 million to $59.4 million, Bowman was forced to pull off several strategic manoeuvres in trading some of his pivotal players while maintaining Chicago’s proven core of budding superstars. The Blackhawks, barely managing to stay under the cap, lost several young guns which other teams benefited from. Here’s a look at how the former Blackhawk’s have performed on their new NHL teams, and how Chicago has performed under the circumstances in the 2010 – 11 season.

June 24 saw the first major move from Bowman, trading four players to Atlanta for three players and two draft picks. The deal included fan favourite Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel, and Akim Aliu in exchange for Marty Reasoner, Joseph Crabb, Jeremy Morin, and Atlanta’s first two picks in 2010. Those picks were converted into Kevin Hayes, drafted 24th overall, and Justin Holl.

Name, GP, G, A, P, PIM

Byfuglien: 23, 8, 13, 21, 29. (On pace for 75 pts, 39 higher than career high).

Ben Eager: 23, 3, 3, 6, 40. (On pace for 21 pts, 5 higher than career high).

Brent Sopel: 22, 1, 1, 2, 8. (On pace for 7 pts, 13 lower than career high with Blackhawks).

6 days later on June 30, Bowman traded Kris Versteeg and the rights to Bill Sweatt to the Maple Leafs for Viktor Stalberg and minor leaguers Chris Didomenico and Philippe Paradis.

Versteeg: 21, 6, 6, 12, 15. (On pace for 47 pts, 6 lower than career high).

On July 1st Chicago went back to the Thrashers for help, trading forward Andrew Ladd for Ivan Vishnevskiy, and a second round pick in 2011.

Ladd: 23, 8, 16, 24, 4. (On pace for 86 pts, 37 higher than career high).

After filing for arbitration and being awarded $2.75 million Chicago stepped away from their Stanley Cup winning goaltender, Antti Niemi, on August 2nd.

Name, GP, W, L, GAA, S%

Niemi: 9, 3, 5, 3.93, .877. (Only had 7 regulation losses in all of last year).

Playing for a team stacked in young talent, players such as Byfuglien and Ladd suffered from a lack of ice time. However, with a resurgence of playing time on their new team, Byfuglien and Ladd have experienced success and are both on pace for career highs. Byfuglien has quickly become the backbone of a vastly improved Thrashers team, and Ladd would be named captain on November 18th. Eager and Sopel have also thrived with their new team, providing much needed grit to a team that lost Colby Armstrong in the offseason. Versteeg has had, up to this point, a roller coaster of a season. Not living up to expectations, Versteeg has been rotated through the first three lines but has still managed some point production on a team with the fourth lowest goals for per game in the league. Niemi has had the least success with his new team, the San Jose Sharks, falling short of what General Manager Doug Wilson expected from a goalie that recently shined in the playoffs.

Bowman on the other hand, trading mostly for young talent, prospects, and draft picks, relied heavily on free agency to fill the void he left. While attempting to spend as little money as possible, Bowman managed to throw together a team reminiscent of the 09/10 season, but one with a shallower depth than years before. The Blackhawks have accomplished 13 victories in 26 games thus far in the 10/11 season, and currently sit fifth in the Western Conference. Chicago battles a shaky defence with a stifling offence; one that sits ninth in goals for per game.

In conclusion, the NHL has witnessed firsthand the effects of winning the Stanley Cup in the salary cap era. Bottom feeders, such as the Atlanta Thrashers, are ready to pounce on the next championship team to face salary cap difficulties. Most of the former Blackhawks are flourishing on their new teams. As if Bowman hasn’t dealt with enough, the dust hasn’t even begun to settle  in his sea of predicaments. The end of the 10/11 season leaves $42,385,503 committed to just 10 players, meaning that Bowman has to fill a minimum of 10 more spots using only $17 million dollars (If the cap doesn’t increase). It’s safe to say that GM’s of other bottom feeders already have Bowman’s number on speed dial.

By: Kyle Larkin

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