CHICAGO – Once details started to leak out on Sunday about Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook's new five-year contract extension, the debate started full force among those who follow the team.
The deal, finalized and announced by the Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon, is said to be worth $29 million – with a salary cap hit of $5.8 million per season. Combined with the cap hits of Hawks defensemen Duncan Keith, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson, that means starting next year Chicago will have $21.8 million of salary tied up in its top four D-pairings.
Is that too much to pay in the League's "Hard Salary Cap Era" for a solid top four?
Count Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman among those who don't think it is.
"The flip side of that is that it's nice to know we have players who we know," Bowman said. "Sometimes, the unknown is not better than the known. These are quality people first and foremost. We just won the Stanley Cup with these guys. That speaks volumes for their character, their talent, their ability."
Safe to say, then, that Bowman and the Blackhawks aren't sweating Seabrook's new deal as they look toward next season and beyond.
"I would rather have too many good players on my team than switching for a guy you hope could do it," Bowman said on Sunday afternoon, before the Hawks played the Phoenix Coyotes at the United Center in a big Western Conference game. "We know these guys can do it, because they just did it – and we're going to aggressively try to maintain that level, so yeah, I'm comfortable with that. I like that as opposed to the alternative."
He's also convinced there is improvement left in Seabrook's game, despite him already being a key contributor to the Hawks' Stanley Cup championship and winning a gold medal at the Olympics last winter with Team Canada.
"I'm not sure he's even reached his potential yet," Bowman said. "His best years, he's coming into them now. That factored into it. He's still only 25-years old. Looking at defensemen in particular, they kind of hit their stride between 25 and 30, and that's what this contract covers."
Seabrook, who was going to be a restricted free agent, now joins Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Keith, Hjalmarsson, Campbell, Marian Hossa and David Bolland as the team's core players under contract through at least the 2013-14 season.
Patrick Sharp, who leads the team in goals with 32, still has one year left on his four-year contract that he signed in 2008. With Seabrook's new annual salary, the Blackhawks have roughly $48 million tied into 11 players for the 2011-12 season.
Again, the Hawks aren't worried.
"This year we've got Brent getting a raise, but he was already making a good salary," Bowman said. "We have a few other guys we have to sign, but they're not going to be receiving dramatic increases like last year. We're situated well going forward and we've planned things out. We're excited, more importantly, that we still have Brent around. He's been kind of a fixture on our defense if you think about it."
The Blackhawks made Seabrook the No. 14 pick in the 2003 Entry Draft. He already ranks 13th in franchise history with 453 games played and has 177 career points on 34 goals and 143 assists.
"It's good news," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "We're excited about having him for the long-term. He's a big part of our team. I thought he was instrumental in the success we had last year and he's a big leader in the group we have today. He does a lot of things for us. Special teams. Quality minutes. Physicality on the back end. That's what you look for in a defenseman."
It was also mutual interest, as continuing his career in Chicago was important to Seabrook.
"Chicago's been my home for the last six years and I love it here," Seabrook said. "I've had a lot of ups and downs, and I think we're going to have a lot more ups than downs in the future. I'm really proud to be a part of this family for another five years."
Seabrook has 29 assists and 33 points this season while ranking fourth in the NHL in hits with 169. The Hawks also remain just one point out of eighth in the Western Conference with 21 games to play. That timeframe is what sped up the negotiations, which started back in October.
"We were getting close to where you want to either get it done or set it aside, and I think we both realized that it had gotten to that point," Bowman said. "It motivated both of us to get it finished."