Chicago Blackhawks: Panarin’s Contract Demands And What They Mean

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Oct 21, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (72) during a stop in play against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third period at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

What exactly does Artemi Panarin’s future contract mean now for the Chicago Blackhawks?

Just before the beginning of this season, our beloved Chicago Blackhawks’ brass and fanbase learned what it would potentially cost to keep young Russian phenomenon Artemi Panarin in Chi-Town.

It’s an unpleasant subject the forever cash-strapped ‘Hawks knew would have to be broached sooner or later, and now that it’s known the Bread Man wants $6 million a year for six years, things have predictably gotten interesting.

I for one am very curious to see how this situation plays out throughout the course of the 2016-17 campaign, and there are a few potential scenarios that can happen. While I’m no expert when it comes to the business side of hockey, here are some of my novice reactions and speculations.

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Jun 2, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman talk with media during media day the day before the 2015 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The timing is beneficial to the Blackhawks

The fact that Panarin’s camp has put forth contract expectations before the 2016-2017 season even began is a good thing.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I interpret this move as a sign that Panarin wants to remain in Chicago, and therefore wants to give Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman plenty of time to get his priorities and balance sheet in order to make it possible. Panarin is also putting pressure on himself to stand and deliver this season, to give his side more leverage at the negotiating table.

Further, Panarin has to be aware that a sophomore slump or an injury-plagued season would substantially weaken his argument that he’s worth half-a-dozen mil a year. Even if Panarin has a record-setting year, he’d still be tethered to his initial asking price in some capacity.

In other words, Bowman gets plenty of time to think it over, and the Blackhawks get a very motivated Bread Man skating for them each game.

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October 28, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Brandon Saad (20) reacts after scoring a goal against the Anaheim Ducks during the first period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Artemi Panarin’s a better deal than Brandon Saad

Not too long ago, my esteemed Blackhawk Up colleague Colin Likas astutely pointed out the striking similarities between Panarin’s contract demands and those of Brandon Saad.’

Given that Saad’s asking price of $6M a year was met by the Blackhawks’ with a polite “no thank you,” it is certainly feasible Panarin, an equally young and promising forward at the genesis of his career, may meet the same response. While there are certainly some congruences at first glance, closer examination reveals a few more X-factors coloring the Bread Man’s situation.

Going by statistics alone, Panarin is dramatically better than Saad. In their first full seasons in the NHL, Panarin put up 77 points, compared to Saad’s 47 (Saad has averaged just over 50 points per season since).

Granted Saad has the experience of two successful Stanley Cup runs, but Panarin showed almost immediately his ability to bring out the best in Patrick Kane, on whom the Blackhawks have staked a substantial percentage of their future success.

There is always the chance of Panarin’s output during his rookie year being a fluke, but thus far this season, he seems to be picking up right where he left off with frequent line partners Kane and Artem Anisimov. Saad certainly proved he is capable of playing on the top line with a top team, but he didn’t form as productive a bond (not saying he wouldn’t have ever) with the likes of Marian Hossa or Jonathan Toews.

Thus, when compared to Saad’s near-identical contract demands, given his statistical and intangible superiority, Panarin’s request for $6 million a year emerges as the better deal.

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Oct 21, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Richard Panik (14) celebrates with teammates center Artem Anisimov (15), center Tyler Motte (64), and defenseman Gustav Forsling (42) against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third period at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Young guns helping Panarin’s cause

If there is one thing the Blackhawks have been known for during these very initial stages of the 2016-17 season, it’s their dependence on more newly-minted players from the farm system more so than at any time in recent memory.

I mention this because if the Blackhawks do decide to meet the Bread Man’s contract demands, leaning on young and inexperienced talent may become the franchise’s modus operandi for the foreseeable future.

The Blackhawks currently have a substantial amount of capital tied up in their core players. While we can only speculate the full ramifications of trying to squeeze in Panarin’s $6M a year contract into their already crowded payroll, one thing is certain: The ‘Hawks will not be able to afford to sign proven, but more expensive veteran players for some time going forward.

Thus, the Blackhawks will have to depend on the players in their farm system who, while untested, are cheap. Needless to say, adopting such an operating structure is a tremendous gamble for the Blackhawks, but so far this season, it seems to be one they are winning.

As of this post, Richard Panik, Tyler Motte, Nick Schmaltz, Gustav Forsling, Dennis Rasmussen and Ryan Hartman have collectively tallied 21 points, which is certainly commendable. Furthermore, in addition to being productive, the aforementioned players have three other attributes in common: They have not skated a full season in a Blackhawks sweater, they are all in their early to mid-twenties, and they all make less than $1 million a year.

There is certainly a lot of season left to play, but if the Blackhawks’ young players can keep up their current pace of point production, the ‘Hawks’ management may feel more comfortable regarding their ability to remain competitive with such a large percentage of their roster as an unknown quantity, and therefore may be more inclined to fork over the necessary dough to lock up the Bread Man for the long term.

While the results of this season will certainly color Panarin’s contract demands, despite the tough financial situation keeping the Bread Man will put the ‘Hawks in initially, it’s very hard to imagine they would let such a talent walk. Here’s hoping a deal can be made that is favored by all sides.

FOR THE DAGGER!

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