Shortly before the puck dropped for the Blackhawks’ final game before the NHL All-Star break against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, and not long after having received his own contract extension, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman addressed the media and dropped some big news that all Chicago fans can get behind: Russian rookie sensation Artemi Panarin apparently will be the target of a possible contract extension this offseason.
According to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times, Bowman made mention of the possible extension, along with other looming questions for the Blackhawks ahead of the post All-Star break portion of the season. (i.e. His own extension, potential trade deadline moves and the Canadian dollar’s affect on the NHL salary cap).
Panarin making huge rookie splash
The idea that the Blackhawks would want to extend Panarin beyond his current two-year, $1.625 million deal, which includes a ton of incentives for games played, All-Star recognition and performance-based plateaus, goes without saying. The addition of Panarin this season, as well as putting him on the same line as Patrick Kane and fellow Russian Artem Anisimov, has put Chicago in place to not only overcome the roster overhaul from last offseason, but also maintain its status as a Stanley Cup favorite.
Currently, Panarin has tallied 46 points (17 goals, 29 assists) in his first 53 NHL games and ranks second on the team in points behind Kane. Panarin also ranks third in goals behind Jonathan Toews and Kane, and is top-10 on the team with a plus-9 rating.
As far as the Calder Trophy race goes for NHL Rookie of the Year, it’s all but wrapped up for Panarin at this point. Coming into this season, No.1 overall pick Connor McDavid was the odds-on favorite for the award, with some consideration for No. 2 pick Jack Eichel. After McDavid went down with an injury in November, and Eichel’s hot start to the season fizzled, Panarin has been able to pull to the NHL’s forefront as the best newcomer.
Panarin’s statistical ranks among rookies are as follows:
- Goals: 17 (1st)
- Assists: 29 (1st)
- Points: 46 (1st)
- Plus/Minus : 9 (5th)
- Powerplay points: 12 (1st)
- Time on ice: 18:47 (4th overall, 1st for forwards)
Contracts, Free Agents and the Salary Cap
Now, having the potential NHL Rookie of the Year on your team and wanting to keep him a long-term, core piece to the Blackhawks puzzle means more hard decisions for Bowman this summer. Key role players like Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger are restricted-free agents at season’s end, as are Phillip Danault, Jiri Sekac, Dennis Rasmussen and Mark McNeill.
Shaw and Kruger currently combine for a cap hit of $3.5 million, but both look to increase their pay this offseason. Shaw has been a positive yet again for the Blackhawks this season, while Kruger has been sidelined since November with a long-term wrist injury that will have him out of commission until the beginning of the postseason. After going through a long waiting period this past summer before signing a one-year deal, Kruger looks to be the most expendable Blackhawk at the moment.
Obviously, at 25 years old, Kruger still factors to have his best hockey days ahead of him. But before going down with his injury, Kruger had been a bit of a disappointment with just one point in 33 games. Since he has left the lineup, Danault has stepped up and made quite the impact as the regular fourth-line center for Chicago. In 19 games so far, the 22-year-old Danault has tallied five points and is a regular on the penalty killing unit, basically doing exactly what Kruger has done for Chicago at nearly half the cap hit.
If keeping a dynamic, potential core figure for the Blackhawks’ future like Panarin costs the team a role-player like Kruger, that’s a more than fair swap.
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What do you think? Is the potential Panarin extension worth it if a player like Kruger gets the cap crunch? Let us know what you think in the comments section.