If the Chicago Blackhawks and Artemi Panarin are getting any closer to a contract extension, GM Stan Bowman didn't mention it during the team's fan convention Friday. Bowman declined to offer an update on talks with Panarin, who is set to become a restricted free agent next summer, when asked about the situation.
Panarin has to be one of the top priorities for the Hawks going forward. The 24-year-old is coming off a monster Calder-winning rookie season and only has one year left on his bonus-laden entry-level contract. Given the team's recent history with prominent restricted free agents, there's an undeniable sense that the clock is ticking, even if he won't hit the open market next year.
It's unclear what kind of demands Panarin has for his second contract at this point. The two sides weren't eligible to begin discussing an extension until July 1, and he's only got one NHL season under his belt. Chicago might be hesitant to commit too much too soon to a relatively unproven star, as spectacular as that first season was. But on the flip side, Panarin's leverage will only increase if he continues playing well in Year 2. In a world where Mark Scheifele gets $6.125 million annually, I'm guessing Panarin doesn't come any cheaper.
So Bowman is playing a delicate game here in trying to lock down Panarin at the right price, something he was unable to do with Saad and Shaw. After losing those two forwards in back-to-back offseasons -- not to mention Teuvo Teravainen -- there's almost no way Chicago can afford to move Panarin. Even if it meant getting back a nice return in a trade if talks fell apart, that would still likely be a step back given the difficulty of replacing a young forward who just scored 77 points.
There's no real need to be concerned at this point because there's still so much time between now and next July, but it would be silly to assume this will 100 percent work out after what happened with Shaw and Saad. Sometimes these guys just come in with contract demands the Hawks can't meet.
While Chicago could play hard ball and challenge Panarin to go sign an offer sheet next summer, that could backfire if he signs an eight-year, ~$7.5 million AAV offer sheet that you can't match and end up with just first-, second- and third-round picks when he walks. That would be terrible for a team on the Hawks' timeline. Bowman likely have some extra cap flexibility next summer to pay Panarin, but you can paint a scenario where a stagnant cap, a big cap overage from next season and unexpectedly large demands from the Russian winger leave the team cornered yet again.
Hopefully this all gets done sooner than later so we don't have to worry about that. Panarin is easily one of my favorite players the team has ever had, and my soul could not handle his departure.