Chicago Blackhawks play game of Chicken with Artemi Panarin contract

There is some Good News and Bad News for Chicago Blackhawks fans that are following the World Cup of Hockey Tournament. The Good news is that Artemi Panarin, the Blackhawks Calder Trophy winning winger as NHL Rookie of the Year, has been one of the very best players on Team Russia as the warm up games have concluded. If anyone had any doubts if he was the real deal, each game that goes by making it clearer and clearer what kind of possession driving, ultra competitive, high scoring, savvy winger he truly is.

Did he get some lift from playing with Patrick Kane last year, the Hart Trophy winning MVP? No doubt. Ask Kris Versteeg and Brad Richards, two guys out of the NHL (Richards retired and Versteeg is on a PTO with Edmonton) who are only a year removed from winning a Stanley Cup after playing on a line with Kane.

But on a team with the likes of Ovechkin, Kucherov, Tarasenko, and Malkin, Panarin has been pacing the team in offensive production and in the middle of much of the offensive push for Russia. So it seems the Blackhawks have another offensive superstar on their hands, in a league where scoring 30 goals in a season makes you an elite player, Panarin potted 30 as a rookie and finished in the top 10 leaguewide in scoring. Only 28 players, less than one per team, reached the 30 goal mark last season.

So what is the bad news in all this? Panarin’s rookie contract ends after this season. The Blackhawks wanted to extend his contract this offseason. Panarin is so good that each day the Hawks wait to present his next deal, his price goes up. However, after the salary cap number came in, a problem became apparent. Estimating a modest 3% cap growth for next year, there is not enough salary cap room to sign him to a market deal and keep the team under the cap even with cheap players from college or the AHL on rookie deals.

Based on Brandon Saad’s current $6 million deal in Colombus, and Tarasenko’s $7.5 million deal with St. Louis, and whatever Gaudreau signs for in Calgary, Panarin is looking at $6.5 – $Gaudreau million (would that be a Gaudrillion dollars?) on his next deal per year. The only way for the Hawks to fit such a deal is to remove a salary from their current team that is not an entry level contract or low cost deal.

Can they or would they move Toews, Kane, Keith, Hjarmalsson, or Hossa? No, the first 4 are too good and Hossa is declining too much relative to his cap hit. Seabrook starts an 8 year, $6.875 per deal this year. He is one of the only players on the Hawks who is physical and has size. It is unlikely with that long term salary commitment they would find a taker, or that they would have a suitable replacement in house.

Cory Crawford and his $6 million deal could be a possibility, but behind him are only the unproven Scott Darling who has nice size and potential but has never carried the weight of being an everyday goalie, even in his break through year in the AHL when he shared the net with Michael Leighton. Plus, there is a glut of goalies in the NHL. What contending team needs a goalie that doesn’t already have one? A move in net seems very unlikely. Crawford’s deal gets better each year.

Only two players are left with significant salary, centers Anisimov and Kruger. Anisimov has solved the long sought 2nd line center with size issue, although his numbers would indicate he is more suited to a third line role. Kruger is a two time Cup winning defensive specialist making just over $3 million per year. At that price there may not be much of a market for Kruger in trade.

However, the NHL expansion draft to stock the Las Vegas franchise is June 17th. NHL teams can protect 4 defensemen and 4 forwards, or 3 defensemen and 7 forwards, and one goalie in each case. The Hawks could leave Kruger unprotected and see if Las Vegas wants to add a defensive specialist with Cup winning experience to their young team. If so, this would create the room for Panarin’s new deal. They must protect Anisimov as he has a no move clause in his new contract. The team could, however, ask him for a list of teams and try to work out a deal, although again this could be a difficult thing to pull off.

Most likely, they will try to trade Kruger after this season, or leave him exposed in the expansion draft, at which point they would have until July 1st to cut a deal with Panarin and prevent him from fielding offers as a restricted free agent. In this case Chicago would retain the right to match any contract he signs.

If Kruger is not selected in the expansion draft, they could look to deal Panarin’s rights, although after doing the same thing with restricted free agents Brandon Saad (netted the since-traded Marco Dano and Anisimov from Colombus) and Andrew Shaw (netted two picks from Montreal) in the last two seasons, the Hawks well know that they will be coming out on the short end of any such deal.

Pull up GeneralFanager.com or capgeek, how do you think they will fit in Panarin’s next deal?

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