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Chicago Blackhawks’ Richard Panik Deal Indicates More Moves Coming

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Mar 21, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Richard Panik (14) celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Canucks during the third period at the United Center. The Vancouver Canucks won 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 21, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Richard Panik (14) celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Canucks during the third period at the United Center. The Vancouver Canucks won 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /
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Richard Panik is returning to the Chicago Blackhawks on a two-year contract, but the real story is about what this means for the 2017-18 roster

After the Chicago Blackhawks exited the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the first round for the second consecutive season, general manager Stan Bowman said most anything would be up for changing. Bowman started by firing assistant coach Mike Kitchen and Rockford IceHogs leader Ted Dent before trading backup goaltender Scott Darling to Caroina.

We got our first Blackhawks player retention/addition of the offseason this morning, though. Forward Richard Panik avoided free agency by inking a two-year deal with Chicago. He’ll be paid $2.8 million annually under the deal.

After tallying 44 points last season, an NHL career high, Panik made sure he got paid. He talked earlier in the offseason about wanting to stay in Chicago as well, so Panik may have dropped a couple hundred-thousand dollars to stick around. But this is no doubt a good return for Panik, who came with a $875,000 cap hit this season.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, are in a different position. They’re already $3.6 million over the salary cap for next season with offseason bonuses factored in. And that’s with no changes to a team that wasn’t very close to contending for the Stanley Cup when the actual playoffs rolled around.

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So that means there are more moves coming. You could have expected this, of course, but the Panik signing at least offers us some possible direction for where the Blackhawks could be going with their roster construction moving forward. Darling only told us Corey Crawford would be sticking around. Panik staying in Chicago offers us even more options.

Expansion draft thoughts

Here are the rules for the upcoming NHL expansion draft in order to stock the Vegas Golden Knights’ first roster:

"1. One defenseman who is a) under contract in 2017-18 and b) played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.; 2. Two forwards who are a) under contract in 2017-18 and b) played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.; 3. One goaltender who is under contract in 2017-18 or will be a restricted free agent at the expiration of his current contract immediately prior to 2017-18. If the club elects to make a restricted free agent goaltender available in order to meet this requirement, that goaltender must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the club’s protected list."

So the Blackhawks could expose Panik to the expansion draft under his new contract. That could be done in order to protect Marcus Kruger, who is very likely a forward the Blackhawks would’ve had to put up for exposure (and they still could). Jordin Tootoo is also eligible.

Interestingly, Kruger’s cap hit of $3.083 million is very close to that of Panik. So maybe Bowman is still planning on Kruger going in the expansion draft, and he was just using money he assumed he’ll have available later to pay Panik.

Chicago Blackhawks

Big move is required

Regardless of whether Panik or Kruger is taken in the expansion draft (unless Vegas decides to take someone like Trevor van Riemsdyk, Michal Rozsival or Jeff Glass), the Blackhawks are still going to be right up against or even over the salary cap without a 23-man roster.

Could Panik have been re-signed to be a throw-in on a big trade this offseason? That theory comes from one of my good friends and a fellow big-time hockey fan, Mil Savich (follow him on Twitter for hockey, Cubs and music talk). And it makes sense.

Could he be paired with Brent Seabrook and has giant contract for a draft-day trade? Could the Blackhawks even have second thoughts about extending Artemi Panarin for $6 million next season and the one after, especially after another disappearing act in the postseason?

Maybe Panik isn’t going to be a throw-in, but with another player inked for a multi-million dollar cap hit, the Blackhawks are going to need to move a big name even more than they needed to before.

Small-contract forwards are out

Panik’s extension also means some small-contract athletes who were playing for the Blackhawks are not going to return next season.

This certainly could’ve been the case to begin with, but another contract over $2 million per year in cap hit guarantees it. Andrew Desjardins will be gone. Tomas Jurco will not return. Dennis Rasmussen could be forced to test the free agency waters. After the expansion draft, Jordin Tootoo could be dumped as well despite having another year on his contract.

The Blackhawks are going to look for similarly skilled players who will cost the same or less as the names above, though they’ll be younger guys with little to no NHL experience. This is a natural downside of the salary cap era, but it’s going to be even more pronounced this offseason with how many big contracts are currently on the books.

Next: Leafs Could Be Next Blackhawks With Single Trade

So, Panik’s two-year deal may not keep him in Chicago much longer. But it could open up a ton of options for the Blackhawks as far as filling out their roster. It hasn’t necessarily made things easier, but it’s certainly made things more interesting.

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