CHRIS PUMMER: NHL salary cap clearing season has begun, and two teams that found themselves in the Stanley Cup Final just a year ago have had to part with key pieces of those postseason runs.
The Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers both jettisoned high-paid parts to gain flexibility, but the Hawks look to be making stronger decisions in this regard.
Chicago offloaded defenseman Brian Campbell and forwards Troy Brouwer and Tomas Kopecky. Campbell is a terrific player who the Hawks will miss. But he was also maybe the third best defenseman on the team, behind Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. That made Campbell’s exorbitant $7.4 million salary, and corresponding cap hit, a luxury that could no longer be afforded while adding other pieces, or hammering out a contract extension for other star players like Patrick Sharp.
Brouwer and Kopecky, while not nearly as vital as Campbell on the ice, will also be missed to a lesser degree. But if the choice is between keeping solid role players, and being able to keep Sharp while developing some depth behind him, it was an easy choice for the Hawks.
The Flyers faced a tougher choice. Feeling the need to add a top-flight goaltender, Philly GM Paul Holmgren signed former Coyotes netminder Ilya Bryzgalov to a huge contract. To fit him under the salary cap, Holmgren had to dispatch two legitimate top-line centers in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.
Carter had only just last season signed a big contract extension. Both were under control through the 2020 season. Both provided huge scoring punch that will have to be replaced.
Where the Blackhawks seem to be doing the right thing — focusing on keeping their star players, while replacing others who are more, well… replaceable — Philadelphia looks to be patching one hole by blowing a hole in another part of its team.
Time will tell which philosophy bears better results. For now I’ll side with the star strategy.