Artemi Panarin had his choice of where to play in the NHL. The Russian winger was highly sought coming off a breakout year in the KHL and fielded offers from countless teams roughly a year ago. Panarin ultimately chose to sign with the Blackhawks, but not because of money.
Panarin actually took a smaller contract in order to sign with Chicago, according to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times. The Blackhawks' two-year deal, worth $812,500 annually plus incentives, was actually the least amount of money anyone offered Panarin as a free agent:
Toronto offered him a contract in December of 2014. Montreal and Calgary were in the mix, too. The Blackhawks came in later, as did many other teams. In the end, Panarin picked six finalists, all offering contracts laden with performance bonuses. All offered max entry-level deals of $925,000. All except the Hawks, who could only pony up $812,500 a year to make the salary cap figures work.
This is the power of being a respected, marquee franchise. The Blackhawks couldn't offer as much money as other teams, but they could provide the chance to play with elite players in a winning system under a legendary coach. They also smartly made concessions like offering an opt-out in Panarin's contract if he failed to make the NHL roster out of training camp.
The result was Panarin taking the rare discount to sign with Chicago. The move cost him over $100,000 each year, which certainly isn't nothing when you're a 24-year-old early in his career. It's a credit to GM Stan Bowman that he was willing to get creative and convinced Panarin to take less money. And now, based on the winger's scorching debut year next to Patrick Kane, it wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest Panarin will make far more money in the end as a result of his success in the league.
Usually, the NHL's financial rules put the Hawks in a tough position, but this time, the cost-controlled nature of Panarin's free agency allowed the team to focus on selling the opportunity, the locker room, etc. rather than money. No team could offer way more money than anyone else. The Hawks, on the other hand, could offer him chances that were unique to the franchise.
For the past few months, it's seemed like Panarin and the Hawks were destined to be together. Apparently he felt that before, too.