Panarin has one year remaining on the entry-level contract he signed with the Blackhawks last year. He's coming off a monster rookie season with Chicago and ranks as one of the league's top restricted free agents for the summer of 2017. As such, GM Stan Bowman is wasting no time trying to avoid the scenario that played out with Brandon Saad a year ago by getting Panarin locked up.
The two sides still need to wait to see where the 2016-17 salary cap ultimately comes in before hammering out the details on a deal, but Powers says it could be finalized "early on in the process." The initial meeting presumably laid some groundwork for negotiations that will come soon and hopefully lead to a long-term pact.
The big question, of course, is just how much Panarin wants in exchange for the prime chunk of his playing career. He's a premier player and will want to be paid accordingly. Powers offers Saad, Aleksander Barkov and Vladimir Tarasenko as possible comparisons. As RFAs last summer, Saad got $36 million over six years and Tarasenko got $60 million over eight years. Barkov signed a six-year, $35.4 million extension that starts with his first RFA season. Expect Panarin to be aiming for a similarly lucrative deal.
The Blackhawks need to get Panarin signed soon because the market for him likely won't get any smaller in time. The closer he gets to restricted free agency, the more tempting that option will become, and that's especially true if he starts piling up numbers again in his sophomore season. The team would rather get a deal done before then and have that cost locked in even if he takes his game to another level in Year 2.
And based on Powers' report, it sounds like the team is pretty committed to making that happen even if it means making concessions elsewhere. Teuvo Teravainen, who Powers says is unlikely to be dealt this offseason, could become a trade candidate in 2017 because he'll also be an RFA. If the Hawks ultimately have to risk the chance to re-sign Teuvo in order to lock up Panarin, it appears that's something they're willing to do. When a 24-year-old shows up from Russia and records 30 goals and 77 points in his first year, you figure out how to keep him.
Still, it's undeniable that the memories of Saad still loom in the back of the head here. "We'll get him signed," Bowman told reporters in May 2015. Less than six weeks later, Saad was a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. This is different, of course, because Panarin still has a year left on his current deal, so he's not going anywhere soon. But we've seen how quickly things can change when talks fall apart. Panarin says he wants to play in Chicago, but these decisions are understandably more complicated than that.
Luckily we're getting positive indications right now. While squeezing in another big cap hit won't be easy for Chicago, for Panarin, it'll be worth it.