The Chicago Blackhawks aren’t about to let another young star slip out of their grasps.
Little more than a week after Artemi Panarin was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week, the Blackhawks have reportedly come to terms with the 25-year-old sniper on a contract extension. The Athletic’s Scott Powers was the first to report the extension, and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman added that the deal could be for two years at $6 million.
Panarin broke into the NHL during the 2015-16 campaign, coming over to North America after a pair of stellar years in the KHL, and he continued his progression with a spectacular rookie campaign. After finding a near immediate chemistry with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, Panarin posted 30 goals and 77 points in 80 games en route to capturing the Calder Trophy and has continued that pace into his sophomore year. Through 37 games, he’s pacing the Blackhawks with 15 goals and 37 points, two points ahead of Kane, who was the Art Ross Trophy winner during the previous season with a 106-point year.
It’s no surprise then that the new deal carries a significant pay raise for the Russian winger, but it will be interesting to see if more money goes to his base salary come the 2017-18 campaign. Due to the structure of his current deal, Panarin is only paid $925,000 as a base salary this season, but his deal carries nearly $2.6-million in potential performance bonuses, including finishing among the top-10 in scoring, a mark he accomplished during his rookie campaign.
It has long been speculated about what exactly Panarin’s worth would be to the Blackhawks, especially as the team has battled against salary cap restrictions over the past several years, but $6 million was often the expected range for the deal.
That he has inked an extension makes it incredibly clear that Chicago sees him as just as key a piece of the future as they do the now-veteran Kane and Jonathan Toews, but there will be definite in interest in seeing how the Blackhawks go about retaining Panarin at the end of his new extension. Because of the two-year term, Panarin will become an unrestricted free agent, and with how productive he has been, he could look to hit the open market and cash in big time if Chicago can’t afford to keep him around.
However, the immediate question for the Blackhawks — and, more importantly, for GM Stan Bowman — becomes one of who has to go in order for Panarin to stay. Despite what the contract value is, it’s almost certainly going to be one that necessitates Chicago making a trade or some sort of move to free up cap space down the line.
It seems incredibly likely that Marcus Kruger, a key part of the penalty kill and bottom-six, will be moved along, be it at the expansion draft or otherwise, in order to clear his nearly $3.1-million cap hit. That might not be all, however. There is the potential for Chicago to also say goodbye to a key defender — Brent Seabrook or Niklas Hjalmarsson would be the contenders for that dubious honor — with the goal being to clear even more space moving forward.
Even if it is only a two-year deal, it’s hard to see this as anything but a good signing for Chicago. It may cost them a prospect or draft pick in order to clear the cap space, but the Blackhawks have found a legitimate top-scoring winger, and managing to keep an immensely talented young piece in the lineup — something they notably failed to do with Brandon Saad — is going to be paramount for their success in the future.
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