Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Breadman Stayeth
Panarin Signs 2 Year Extension

After what has been a bizarre, tumultuous, and often times heavyhearted 2016, the Blackhawks gave fans a wonderful last minute present late last night, when the news of the Artemi Panarin bridge deal was leaked. I, for one, was getting concerned because Panarin has been the only Blackhawks player not named Marian Hossa, that has been consistently on a scoring tear through the league. Each game that passed, he has been proven more valuable to this team and, as a result, more expensive.

As of today, Panarin was tied for 10th in the NHL (2nd on the Blackhawks) with 15 goals, tied for 13th in the NHL (2nd on the Blackhawks) with 22 assists, and 5th in the NHL (1st on the Blackhawks) with 37 points. That's pretty damn impressive. The sophomore slump is a fallacy to #BreadOMac.

Panarin's deal is a slightly under market value 2 year deal worth $6 million per year, and this is a pretty damn good deal for both parties. As with anything, here are certainly concerns both ways. For the Blackhawks, they have 2 more years to figure out how to lock him down long term, if that's their plan. His price is going to rise and, no doubt, there was talk about a "Kruger-esque" deal where he takes a below market ticket this time and he is rewarded with a healthy raise after. This is a scary proposition, because $6 million is nothing to laugh at. If Panarin keeps up this point per game pace, he's going to, at minimum, command similar salary to Phil Kessel ($8M), Vlad Tarasenko ($7.5M), and Jakub Voracek ($8.25M). The additional scary aspect to this deal is that Panarin will be a full unrestricted free agent at the close of this deal. Realistically, the Blackhawks could have exercised restricted free agent rights, and held Panarin over a barrel. Not the most wise of the choices, but an alternative nonetheless. The threat of an offer sheet always looms like a dark cloud, but it is so extremely rare and looked at as poor form that the Blackhawks were looking at a less than 10% chance of a team pulling that stunt.

Speaking of offer sheets, Stan Bowman really lucked into this after the Brandon Saad ordeal went sideways, two summers ago, eh? They ended up with a more dynamic player for less money. Brandon Saad is a nice player, but Artemi Panarin is eclipsing anything Saad would have given the Hawks. There is simply no way Brandon Saad was giving the Blackhawks 77 points. That is no knock on Saad, either. I love him, and would take him back in a New York minute.

As far as the bigger picture goes, the Blackhawks front office just bought themselves two years to figure out just how they are going to free up salary. Don't get me wrong, they will still need to maneuver salary this summer to fit this $4 million raise under the cap for next season, but they bought some wiggle room. Possibly as much as $2 million of wiggle room. Walk with me in hell, as we paint a little salary cap painting for this coming summer:

-Coming off the cap this summer as UFA are Desjardins ($800K), Tootoo ($750K), Campbell ($1.5M), Rozsival ($600K), and Darling ($587,500). I have to think, based on what I've read, that Campbell will come back at any price. Darling is 50/50, or maybe 33/66, but he will CERTAINLY get a raise, to at least, four times what he's making now. Assuming this, you have roughly $4.25M coming off the cap, and you could probably get both Campbell and Darling back around $3.5 million. For the sake of this exercise, Bowman would get roughly $750K in relief.

-As far as restricted free agents go, the Blackhawks have Panik ($875K), Rasmussen ($575K), and Kempny ($700K) as significant pro level RFAs. Any or all of these guys would command a raise if they returned, so there is no relief to be found through this solution. In fact, you're most likely eating up some of the pie to keep these three.

-The Blackhawks will probably just tread water with bonus and salary retention. Blob Scuderi's god forsaken salary will finally come off the books, and give them $1.13 million in cap relief. The bonus structure will be somewhat similar to this year, with Panarin, Campbell and Kempny all getting performance bonuses. Forsling, and Hinostroza could very well ring in their bonuses, as well, so all these figures could spell a $1 million jump in overages next season. This, of course, would eat up a good majority of Scuderi's stolen money.

-Finally, lets just assume that the cap goes up $2 million and throw about that same number in cap space out there.

What does all this tell us? Someone has to go. Mind you, a player is likely to go in the expansion "draft", but I just don't see anyone higher profile than Marcus Kruger leaving through that route. We all bring up Brent Seabrook or Corey Crawford, but that would require them waiving their no trade / no movement clauses. Marcus Kruger has a modified NTC that kicks in July 1st so, as much as it would hurt the Hawks on their half of the ice and I wouldn't be happy, he looks more and more like a prime candidate. More than likely Kane, Toews, Hossa, Anisimov, Seabrook, Keith, Hjalmarsson and Crawford will be protected. This leaves three open forward spots. I will go out on a limb to say they will protect Marcus Kruger, Ryan Hartman, and Dennis Rasmussen with their final spots unless they, and by they I mean Joel Quenneville, are in love with Trevor van Riemsdyk so much that they want to risk less protecting 2 less players.

As much as I love him as a player, Brent Seabrook could certainly be moved to free up almost $7 million. Again, he has a full no trade clause in his contract, and he would need to waive this clause to go anywhere (or be left unprotected in the expansion exercise). Seabrook will be 32 years old, on the decline (as slow as the decline is) and his contract goes on way too long. Trading a player just one year into his new eight year extension isn't ideal, but this is a tough business. Tough decisions need to be made.

The sexy pick to move, with Blackhawks meatball collective, is Corey Crawford. He is halfway through his six year extension, with a reasonable market value $6 million cap hit, and also has an undisclosed modified no trade clause in his contract. John Jaeckel speculated, on our last Shoutcast (shameless plug), that it was of the "list of 10 teams" variety. Crawford is also at the top of his game (probably top 5 in the league), and will be 32 on New Years Eve. He is a cheaper player, plays a more crucial position, and has a shorter contract. All of these aspects could lead to teams preferring his name in trade talks.

The elephant in the room, though, is that while all of these losses would hurt in their own way, the Blackhawks would open up a gaping hole by trading Corey Crawford. Scott Darling is a wonderful backup, but he is a significant step backwards from Corey Crawford. As an organization, they have some defensive depth that could help alleviate the loss of Brent Seabrook much easier than the loss of Crawford, if Quenneville would use it.


But I digress...

If, or WHEN, Scott Darling suddenly looks more human, they have absolutely no one of substance behind him. No thank you. I'll take three more years of the goalie that is at, or near, the top of his game, rather than 7 more years of Brent Seabrook at just a hair under $7 million a clip. Again, I love Seabrook.

The bottom line is that this summer will be yet another contentious one. Someone we all know and have come to love will be playing elsewhere because of that commie Russian;

and that's ok.

The Blackhawks will recover, and they will probably just keep finding ways to keep themselves highly competitive until the end of the Toews and Kane era. After almost a decade, we all just have to figure that this is the norm.

I suppose.

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