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Artemi Panarin's scoring numbers might cost the Blackhawks salary cap space next summer

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The Hawks' rookie winger is playing his way toward contract bonuses many never believed he would reach.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Artemi Panarin just keeps scoring and scoring. The rookie forward recorded three assists in the Blackhawks' 5-4 win over the Coyotes on Thursday. He now has 18 goals and 32 assists -- good for 50 points -- in just 55 games. That places him among the game's top scorers, which has been great news for Chicago this season.

It also might cost the team come next offseason, though. Panarin's contract, which he signed as a free agent last spring, includes a variety of performance bonuses. While the forward is a steal at his base salary of $812,500 per year, the bonuses give him opportunities to earn significantly more money -- and significantly increase his salary cap hit in the process.

For most of this season, it seemed unlikely that Panarin would reach any of his largest bonuses. Now that's not looking so certain. In the 24-year-old's two-year contract, there are essentially three categories of bonuses, per General Fanager.

  • Games played bonuses: $25,000 for five games played; $200,000 for 10 games played
  • Schedule A bonuses (maximum of $850,000): $212,500 for any of the following achievements - top six forward on Hawks in ice time (total or average, min 42GP); 20 goals, 35 assists or 60 points; top 3 forward on Hawks in +/- (min 42GP); 0.73 points per game (min 42GP); All Rookie Team; reach All-Star Game; win All-Star Game MVP
  • Schedule B bonuses (maximum of $1.725 million): $1,725,000 for any of the following achievements - top 10 forward in the league in goals/assists/points/points per game (min 42GP); top 5 in league in Hart/Selke/Richard voting; NHL First or Second team all star; Conn Smythe

So there's a decent amount to unpack here. Panarin obviously locked up his games played bonuses, which get folded into the base salary, early in the season. He was also likely to reach several Schedule A bonuses, including the ones for goals, assists and points. But those kinds of bonuses are capped at $850,000, so no matter what Panarin was only going to be able to add so much money to his 2015-16 payout.

The real concern for the Hawks comes with the Schedule B bonuses. The Hawks gave Panarin the opportunity to earn significantly more money via Schedule B bonuses if he managed to hit them. The two sides set up some pretty big parameters that the team probably didn't think the winger would hit. We're talking a top-10 finish in points, goals, assists or points per game, or finishing in the top five in voting of a major award category, or winning Conn Smythe. The Hawks surely decided that, hey, if Panarin manages to hit any of these bonuses, it's only because we got an unbelievably good player. They also probably didn't actually expect him to be a top-10 point scorer.

But then you go to look at the leaderboards:

panarin

Panarin is currently sixth in the league among forwards in points. He's also sixth among forwards in assists.

If the forward finishes the year in the top 10 in either of those categories, it will cost the Blackhawks $1.725 million in bonuses. For a team that's battled to get every dollar of cap space that it can, this could be a significant development for how the team handles next summer.

So let's go into a bit of a hypothetical scenario based on Panarin's current statistics. If Panarin gets all of his bonuses, including the maximum of $850,000 in Schedule A bonuses -- which he'll get from goals, assists, points and points per game -- and the $1.725 million in Schedule B bonuses -- which he'll get from finishing top 10 among forwards in either points or assists -- then you're talking the total $2.575 million in bonus payouts. His base salary will also increase from $700,000 to $925,000, which will increase his base cap hit to $925,000 from $812,500.

Add it all up and you have a total hit of $3.5 million for Panarin in 2015-16. Because the Hawks won't be able to fit the vast majority of that bonus money into their 2015-16 cap -- which is currently fitting in all that money in via the bonus cushion -- it'll be pushed into their 2016-17 cap total, like we saw with Kimmo Timonen's cap overage this season.

Except in this case, we'll be talking about a cap overage of millions, not $750,000. That could be a major hurdle for the Hawks to overcome next summer, even if it's entirely worth it to have Panarin at that price. It's just that, as long as Panarin scores at this rate, he'll reach enough bonuses to go from being one of the biggest bargains in hockey to a merely good value. I'm sure that's always what Panarin and his agent had in mind with this contract, and it's a testament to Panarin's ability that he's actually been able to make good on so many of those bonuses.

Now, it's always possible Panarin slows down. He's been scoring at a fantastic pace next to Patrick Kane and is still just a few points from dropping out of the top 10. If some other players get hot and Panarin goes through a brief slump, that might be enough for him to cost him almost $2 million. The team is shooting nearly 11 percent when he's on the ice, so maybe some bad luck starts to factor in, though the chemistry between Kane, Panarin and Artem Anisimov can help explain why those numbers might be sustinable.

But that all makes this something to watch for Hawks fans during the remainder of the regular season. Having Panarin rack up points and be an offensive leader for Chicago has been pure joy, but if he keeps this up, it's going to cost the team on the books in the offseason.