KHL star Maxim Shalunov could join the Chicago Blackhawks for a 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs run, reports The Athletic’s Scott Powers. Shalunov’s season in Russia just ended, and while it’s still most likely he’ll stay there for the time being, his agent said this week that “it’s possible” Shalunov could join the Blackhawks soon.
We’ve discussed Shalunov a lot around these parts lately, but his future in the NHL remains uncertain. The 24-year-old just hit restricted free agency in the KHL after finishing his year with Sibir Novosibirsk, and he’s currently pushing for a trade to Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow.
If that doesn’t happen, he’ll consider signing with the Blackhawks, which could put him in position to join the team for the postseason. Powers reports that Shalunov wouldn’t have to clear waivers because he’s already on the Blackhawks’ reserve list as a prospect — a benefit of the NHL and KHL lacking a proper transfer agreement — and would immediately be eligible for the playoffs.
Shalunov’s contract with Sibir technically ends on April 30, so the team would have to agree to let him out of their control early. His agent, Shumi Babaev, said he plans to discuss Shalunov’s future with Sibir management in the next few days.
“It’s possible,” Babaev said. “We just need to talk to [Sibir Novosibirsk] because of their situation. Like I told you before, there’s a 90 percent chance we stay here. But if not, there’s a chance.”
Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has already said publicly that the team wants him back in the fold, although there’s been no communication between the two sides. In an interesting note, however, Powers says a KHL source thought Babaev “may be holding his cards close to his vest and has had indirect communication with the Blackhawks.”
Shalunov has said he’d like to play in the NHL, but only under certain terms. He won’t go back to the AHL, where he played briefly a few years ago, and expects a sizable opportunity upon his arrival.
That’s partially because his base salary on an entry-level contract in the NHL would be lower than what he’d make in the KHL, and his only way of making that up would be through performance bonuses. If he comes to Chicago and gets stuck on the fourth line, there’s a good chance he wouldn’t reach any of the bonuses, in which case he’s left his home country for less playing time and less money. So you can see where his camp is coming from.
But what about the playoffs?
That’s the big question, isn’t it? Shalunov’s potential arrival was generally considered for next season, partially because Sibir was in the midst of the playoff race right until the end of the KHL season (his team fell one point short of a postseason berth). Now it’s possible he joins the Blackhawks for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which begin April 12.
So what would Shalunov bring to the table? We’ll go into this in more detail if this possibility becomes more likely, but Shalunov is a massive left winger (6’4, 212 pounds) who put up 19 goals and 18 assists in 49 KHL games this season. He blossomed into a major shot creator at Sibir, and at age 24, he’s entering his prime right now.
This is the kind of talent the Blackhawks could absolutely use, even if their forward group has coalesced nicely in the past few weeks. The only comparable players on the roster in terms of size and skill are Artem Anisimov and Richard Panik, and if Shalunov could jump into the lineup quickly, he’d be an intriguing addition for a team that didn’t exactly look stacked not that long ago.
One question is whether Shalunov would be able to quickly acclimate himself to the Blackhawks’ system. Some players struggle with that, and as we’ve seen with the rookies this season, it can take some time to find your groove at hockey’s highest level. Shalunov is coming off a big season in the KHL, but the Blackhawks may not want to mess with their chemistry too much by experimenting with an untested rookie at the most important time possible. Then again, if this is their one chance at signing Shalunov this year, they may be hesitant not to take it.