SmithLopezCunningham sports law

By Nick Ustaski

On June 15th 2015, the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Tampa Bay Lighting and won their 3rd Stanley Cup in 6 seasons. In the salary cap era of the National Hockey League this has never been done before and the Chicago Blackhawks, to many, are being called a dynasty. Winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013, and 2015, the Chicago Blackhawks have established themselves as the most recently successful sports team in the city of Chicago. Unlike the Blackhawks, the Chicago Cubs have failed to win a major championship in Major League Baseball. The Cubs have not made the MLB playoffs since the 2008 season and -most importantly- have not won a World Series championship since 1908. The Cubs not winning a baseball championship in 105 years is an embarrassing record for a professional sports team. With the recent success of the Blackhawks and failures of the Cubs, it is interesting to examine both teams’ salary/payroll structures as established by their various leagues and see how much each of their players are making and its effect on winning.

For the Chicago Blackhawks, the NHL is under a salary cap system, which is strictly adhered to by teams in the National Hockey League. The cap also changes every year depending on the value of the Canadian and American dollar.  For the 2014-2015 NHL season, the cap was $69 million with the league floor minimum being $51 million. For next year’s season, 2015-2016, Commissioner Gary Bettman has not released an actual number for the salary cap, but it is estimated at $73 million. For a team like the Blackhawks, this presents a big legal problem. The Blackhawks top players, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have matching contracts with a $10.5 million a year deal, while there are other players like Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, and Duncan Keith each in the $5+ million range. These six players alone, for example, take up $40 million of the salary, half of the salary the hawks have available for next season. The Blackhawks, as a professional hockey team, are obligated by law to adhere to the rules of the salary cap system. With six players taking up so much space, the Blackhawks general manager will have to be creative to keep his core group of players together as well as working on resigning players, such as Brandon Saad, to a larger contract extension. Saad is a restricted free agent and, unless he is signed to a new contract sheet, he will be subject to arbitration. At arbitration, both sides present their requested amounts to a third party who ultimately makes the decision of how much that player makes. As you can see from this information, the Blackhawks will likely have a few new faces on the roster next season when attempting to win their 4th cup in 7 years and continue to be a dynasty.

The Chicago Cubs and MLB have no salary cap, which makes it interesting to compare the Cubs and Blackhawks and their recent success in their own sports. The highest-paid players on the Cubs are Jon Lester, who takes home $20 million a year, and Miguel Montero, who makes $12 million per year. Even though the Cubs’ payroll is only the 12th-highest payroll the MLB at $116,264,024, the players have made and continue to make more than those on the Blackhawks today. Yet the highest-paid players on the ‘Hawks, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, for example, each have 3 Stanley Cup rings, while there is no member currently on the Cubs who was even on the 2008 playoff Cubs roster. The Cubs have entered a rebuilding stage and some argue they have copied the model created by the Blackhawks of building through the draft and signing players in free agency for the right price. If this trend continues, the Cubs -in theory- should continue to get better and better and finally bring the city of Chicago a championship from a baseball team on the north side. The Blackhawks will have to make adjustments to their roster because of salary cap issues, but if they are a true dynasty they will continue to succeed and keep winning championships for the city of Chicago.