The Chicago Blackhawks have had their eyes on KHL breakout star Maxim Shalunov, but the odds of signing him this offseason aren’t great. Shalunov’s agent, Shumi Babaev, said there’s just a “10 percent chance” his client signs with the Blackhawks this year, according to The Athletic’s Scott Powers.
Shalunov, a 2011 NHL draft pick by the Blackhawks, has emerged as a star for Sibir Novosibirsk this year. His contract expires at the end of the 2016-17 KHL season, however, and Babaev said Friday that he will not re-sign with Sibir. As a restricted free agent in the KHL, he must be traded in order to play for another team.
That’s where the Blackhawks could jump in, as there’s a chance that Sibir trades him to a KHL team he doesn’t want to play for. If that happens, he’ll consider leaving Russia to make the leap to the NHL, where the Blackhawks still retain his draft rights thanks to the lack of a proper transfer agreement between the two leagues.
“There’s a 10 percent chance [of signing with the Blackhawks in the near future],” Babaev said in a phone interview with Powers on Friday. “If Sibir Novosibirsk gives him to some team where he doesn’t want to go, there’s a big chance he’ll go to the NHL. But we’re not even thinking about because we’re not having any conversations with the Blackhawks.”
Shalunov’s agent says the situation is expected to unfold in May, so the Blackhawks won’t have to wait until last-minute to know where this might be going. They should know early in the offseason (or possibly while they’re still in the playoffs) whether Shalunov will be in the fold for the 2017-18 season.
If Shalunov does decide to sign with the Blackhawks, he’ll receive an entry-level, bonus-laden deal like Artemi Panarin when he made the NHL leap. If he signs this year, it’d be a two-year deal.
It’s also not worth worrying about the fact that the Blackhawks and Shalunov’s camp haven’t initiated negotiations yet. Shalunov’s KHL season hasn’t ended yet, although it could quite soon, and GM Stan Bowman has said talks would start once his season was over. Babaev also said there’s nothing unusual about the lack of talks at this point.
“It’s normal, it’s business,” Babaev, who is currently applying to become an NHLPA certified agent, told Powers. “They know what’s going on in Chicago. Maybe it’s not right time for Max to go there. I think the same.”
The agent mentioned a lack of top-nine forward spots open on the Blackhawks’ projected roster for next season, and said that Shalunov “won’t be coming to play on the fourth line” in North America. In the past, he also said the player wouldn’t go back to the AHL, where he briefly played a couple years ago, so it’s clear he’s eyeing a big role to leave Russia.
There’s also the matter of money. Shalunov could get millions in bonuses on an ELC from the Blackhawks, but he can reach a base salary of around $2 million by staying in the KHL, according to Powers. That tops the $925,000 max in base salary he’d receive from the Blackhawks.
Given the nature of those bonuses, you can see why Shalunov would refuse to come to the Blackhawks unless he has a big role. The only way he can make as much or more money than he’ll make in Russia is if he puts up big numbers and reaches a bunch of bonuses. He can’t do that on the fourth line, so it makes sense that he’d push for a big role if he’s going to give up guaranteed salary.
Otherwise, he may wait a couple years, then consider making the NHL leap again in 2019. The Blackhawks could have better opportunities for him then, which would make it easier to take the chance in North America.