Chicago Blackhawks fans can expect to see more of Artemi Panarin for at least a couple more years. It was announced on Thursday morning that the team and the forward had agreed to a contract extension.
The contract extension is a two-year deal that will keep Panarin with the Hawks through the 2018-19 season. He will earn six million a year, a figure that comes in lower than most were expecting. Though two years is only a short amount of time, it does allow the Hawks to shift around a bit and see if they can potentially keep Panarin in the long term. It also gives Panarin the chance to show the team and their management why he is worth the amount they are giving him. No team wants to sign a player to a heavy contract only to see them crash and burn, so this allows the Blackhawks to test the waters so to speak.
The best part of Panarin’s deal is perhaps his attitude. With his stats and level of play each night, Panarin has been noticed by plenty of teams throughout the NHL and could have opted for a higher contract. Instead, he chose to stay with the Blackhawks and told the media that “you can’t earn all the money in the world.” His commitment to help the team, as well as his passion to play in Chicago, shows just how well he has adapted to the environment and how much he wants to continue to improve.
Panarin’s extension does put pressure on other parts of the team however. With the new amount Panarin will be receiving plus money paid to big stars like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa, the Hawks will have about $60 million tied up in just nine players. Other players are due for raises as well, like Scott Darling, who is currently only earning a base salary of $600,000. With a salary cap that is not expected to skyrocket anytime soon, the Hawks are really beginning to feel the heat and general manager Stan Bowman will have to make some changes.
As of right now, most eyes are looking at Marcus Kruger being traded. Though he is one of the best penalty killers for the Blackhawks, he has a cap hit of $3.8 million. Clearing that contract up and replacing Kruger with a player from Rockford would help alleviate some of the pressure that the Hawks are feeling. They could also look at Scott Darling as potential trade material. The backup goalie has been hot for the Hawks, both this year and last year, and has been attracting the eyes of other teams. As mentioned previously, he’s due for a raise and unless he takes a huge pay cut, the Hawks will not be able to afford him.
The Las Vegas draft could also be a good source for the Hawks to make room. Plenty of media sources have listed Trevor Van Riemsdyk as a likely defenseman that has caught the eye of the new team. He’s young and moldable, two traits of which are high priority for Vegas. Though he wouldn’t clear up a massive amount of money for the Hawks, it would still give them a little bit more room to work with and he could be easily replaced.
There is, of course, also the potential to unload a big name player, but that could be highly risky for the Blackhawks. They’ve built themselves around a core of guys, like Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Toews, and Kane, and losing one could potentially have highly negative consequences that could hurt the team in the long run. Chicago especially wants to focus on not hitting their defensive end too heavily, as they’ve already had plenty of defensive struggles this year, including on the penalty kill.
So, is Panarin’s contract worth it for the team? As of right now, it is. They may have to downgrade among other parts of the team, but they won’t have to fear losing one of their best scorers. When looking at Panarin’s stats, it’s clear why the team wanted to keep him. He has 115 points in 119 games played with the team and already has 15 goals and 23 assists in this season alone. He picked up the Calder trophy last year with 77 points, outpacing other highly anticipated rookies like Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) and Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia Flyers). In addition, he has also impacted other members of the team in great ways. Together, he, Kane and Artem Anisimov put together the Hawks’ best line last year and he has helped to push Kane’s level of play even higher. When you look at the benefits that Panarin has brought to the Blackhawks, it’s no surprise why this contract was of such importance and why it is a huge relief to finally have it signed.