The reports of Artemi Panarin’s unwillingness to sign a contract extension with the Blue Jackets are out there and they have been for some time. Matter of fact, it’s been nearly one month since news broke ahead of draft weekend that Panarin had made it clear that he wasn’t considering an extension with Columbus, or at least not prepared to put pen to paper quite yet. But a new wrinkle to the story emerged over the past week.
Last week, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen reportedly travelled to France to speak with Panarin and agent Dan Milstein. It was reported, however, that no progress was made on a new pact for Panarin, which led to later reports of Panarin self-instituting a mid-September deadline for contract negotiations, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline. While Milstein held firm that it wasn’t a drop-dead date necessarily in speaking with The Columbus Dispatch’s Steve Gorten, the deadline gives Columbus a clear timeline for convincing Panarin it’s worthwhile to remain a Blue Jacket well into the future. Once training camp rolls around, though, talks could halt and leave Kekalainen and Co. facing a tough decision.
On one hand, the Blue Jackets could attempt to go through the season with Panarin in the lineup in hopes of convincing the winger at some point during the season to remain in Columbus long term. However, if the Blue Jackets were to keep Panarin through the trade deadline, they would risk the 26-year-old bolting as an unrestricted free agent next summer. Losing a player of Panarin’s calibre — a bonafide 30-goal, 80-point scorer with game-changing offensive ability — for nothing would border on a worst-case scenario. With that in mind, may be in Columbus’ best interest to explore the trade market for the winger if negotiations do break off come the beginning of training camp.
And if the Blue Jackets do indeed move Panarin, here are five teams who could come knocking:
Florida was on Panarin’s once-reported list of preferred destinations. Maybe there’s some merit to that. Maybe there isn’t. But any team looking to acquire Panarin should be doing so with the intention of re-signing the winger, and the Panthers would be in a good position to do just that. Chances are Panarin is going to be worth in the neighborhood of $9 million-plus on his next extension, and looking ahead to next summer, Florida is projected to have upwards of $16.3 million in spending room with no major contracts of which to take care.
Money aside, too, what a fit Panarin would be with the Panthers. Florida has already assembled quite the top-six, adding Mike Hoffman this off-season to a group that already includes Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck. Panarin would round out that group nicely with the kind of pure scoring and power play talent that would vault the Panthers’ offense into one of the best and brightest in the league. If GM Dale Tallon wants to get aggressive, Panarin is a no-brainer addition.
NEW YORK RANGERS
It might fly in the face of the rebuilding idea, but Panarin is the type of high-scoring offensive talent you can’t pass up the opportunity at landing. The Rangers have a roster in need of a refresh and the offense could most certainly use a new centerpiece. Panarin would fit the bill perfectly. And money, well, that’s not even remotely an issue for the Blueshirts. While New York has a handful of players to re-sign next summer, including UFA-to-be Mats Zuccarello and RFAs Neal Pionk and Pavel Buchnevich, the Rangers are projected to have more than $30 million to spend. And if you’re New York, do you really have an issue paying Panarin one-third of that if he’s going to be the catalyst for the entire attack?
Signing Panarin might be quite the solid investment, too, if he helps bring out the best in either one of the Rangers’ young pivots. Mika Zibanejad has shown flashes of being a capable No. 1 center, and pairing him with Panarin could immediately bolster the top line in New York. Meanwhile, Vladislav Namestnikov proved his ability to play with top-tier wingers with the Tampa Bay Lightning before landing with the Rangers. He could make a tidy living setting up Panarin’s one-time blasts.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Islanders fans, we know you’re hurting. And no one can blame you. Losing John Tavares was painful. But just do us this one favor: close your eyes and picture Panarin playing alongside Mat Barzal. Doesn’t that help ease the pain a little? It’s not some out-of-this-world fantasy, either. It’s actually within the realm of possibility, and swinging a blockbuster to land Panarin from the Blue Jackets would be a worthwhile consideration for GM Lou Lamoriello. The Islanders most certainly have the money to bring Panarin in and keep him around, with more than $32.4 million in projected space for next season and only two notable UFAs, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee, to secure to new deals. It’s doable.
And while Panarin doesn’t replace what Tavares brought at both ends of the ice, the winger does bring about the same offensive impact. Over the past three seasons, Panarin has scored 88 goals and 233 points in 243 games. Tavares has produced 98 goals and 220 points in 237 outings. There’s no bringing Tavares back, but Panarin might be the next-best thing as far as landing an offensive replacement in the near future.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
A common refrain from teams trading star-calibre players is that they don’t want to trade within the conference, let alone the division. If the Blue Jackets have that mentality with Panarin, you can go ahead and strike both New York clubs off of this list, and Florida might be a no-go for Kekalainen if he wants to ensure trading Panarin doesn’t come back to haunt him. Moving him to the Sharks, however, would solve both problems, and it’s understood by now that San Jose GM Doug Wilson has no fear of the big, bold acquisition.
The Sharks already loaded up when they went out and landed Evander Kane at the past trade deadline and subsequently signed him to a seven-year, $49-million deal, but San Jose actually has enough cap space to maybe make a Panarin acquisition work. The Sharks could have $22 million-plus in cap space next season, and the entire core is locked up for at least another four campaigns, aside from Joe Pavelski. Imagine a top-six with Panarin, Kane, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl. It would be absolutely lethal.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
It might seem completely unfeasible, but if the Blues want to spend big on their top six and beef it up with yet another high-scoring winger, shipping out some talent to bring in Panarin isn’t out of the question.
Some money would have to be shuffled around to make it work this season, but with the contracts of Jay Bouwmeester, Carl Gunnarsson and Robert Bortuzzo coming off the books next summer and no big-name UFAs or RFAs needing raises, St. Louis projects to have more than $22 million to spend next summer. Financially, the only concern for the Blues would be ensuring there’s enough money left over to lock up Brayden Schenn and Alex Pietrangelo in two seasons’ time with Panarin’s potential big-money deal on the books.
And while some might be wondering why Panarin would bother signing long-term in a mid-west city if he has no apparent interest in remaining in Columbus, it might help matters that Panarin is close friends with Vladimir Tarasenko, who actually pushed for the Blues to sign Panarin before he came over to the NHL as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. Maybe the presence of a long-time pal helps Panarin see St. Louis as a long-term home.
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