Matching San Jose's four-year, $14 million offer sheet for Niklas Hjalmarsson was a no-brainer for the Blackhawks.
You don't let 23-year-old defensemen with all-star potential walk.
But the $3.5 million cap hit for Hjalmarsson is a killer for a team that is back up to its neck in salary cap problems.
While GM Stan Bowman said on Monday he hoped to sign restricted free-agent goalie Antti Niemi and that he was still trying to work things out cap-wise, crunch the numbers and it sure looks as if the Hawks must move out another key player with a substantial cap hit.
It might be Patrick Sharp.
It might be Brian Campbell.
It might be Niemi.
Perhaps Bowman can find a team to take Marty Reasoner and his $1.15 million cap hit, or Tomas Kopecky and his $1.2 million hit.
For Hawks fans who have waited so long for a great team, losing Sharp on the heels of seeing Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Adam Burish and John Madden leave would be crushing - Stanley Cup or no Stanley Cup.
With Hjalmarsson, the Hawks have 15 players signed now for $59.3 million, which includes the $4.1 million in bonuses due Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
The NHL's salary cap is $59.4 million.
The Hawks have about $100,000 in cap space, give or take a few thousand with at least five roster spots to fill.
Once Cristobal Huet's $5.65 million comes off the books, the Hawks will be in better shape, but that's about $5.75 million to spend on Niemi and at least four other players.
Bowman still has to sign Bryan Bickell and Jack Skille. If they sign, say, for what they made last season it's about $800,000 for Skille and $500,000 for Bickell.
Here are the cap hits for others who have a chance to make the team.
$525,000 for Jake Dowell.
$735,000 for Marcus Kruger.
$800,000 for Corey Crawford.
$773,000 for Shawn Lalonde.
$1.17 million for Kyle Beach.
$821,000 for Ivan Vishnevskiy.
Maybe the answer is a long-term contract for Niemi that's either front-loaded or back-loaded where the cap hit is friendly. But would Niemi and agent Bill Zito go for a deal of five, six or seven years?
Mix and match the numbers any way you like and it’s clear Bowman still has a big problem to solve.