There’s probably some part of Chicago Blackhawks management hoping Artemi Panarin slows down over the next few games. He’s on the cusp of earning a $1.725 million bonus for finishing top 10 among NHL forwards in points, and that money would be slapped onto next season’s cap books as an overage.
Not that the team would ever publicly root against its own player, but Panarin missing that bonus would give the Blackhawks significantly more flexibility over the summer. You could forgive them for quietly hoping he’d slip out of the top 10 given what the salary cap has done to their roster over the past few years.
But one person who definitely is not hoping for anything but Panarin’s best is coach Joel Quenneville. He may have a vested interest in how next season’s roster is built, but he has an even greater interest in making sure his best players are put in the best positions possible to succeed. That’s what he plans to keep doing with Panarin, even if it means his bosses have almost $2 million less in money to use this offseason.
Q said he'll monitor Panarin down stretch but he'll make sure the kid gets his bonuses. #Blackhawks— Tracey Myers (@TramyersCSN) April 2, 2017
Panarin is currently tied for ninth among NHL forwards with Evgeni Malkin at 72 points. The race is going to be close, as there are 14 players within six points of Panarin right now. So he needs to keep producing down the stretch if he wants to earn that seven-figure bonus.
That’s what Panarin did last season, when he scorched the league for 13 points in his final five games to earn the same bonus.
The Blackhawks have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, which takes some urgency from the final few games of the season. Don’t be surprised if Quenneville manages the star players’ minutes a bit more just to make sure they’re fresh for Game 1 of the first round.
But that apparently won’t come at the expense of Panarin’s ability to produce. He gets some of the most favorable opportunities in the NHL in terms of zone starts and the talent next to him, and Quenneville won’t mess with that because it could save the team cap space. That’s not how you keep your players on the same page, and the Blackhawks have always tried to do right by their stars in this era.
Panarin, to his credit, is trying his best not to think about it:
Artemi Panarin's face dropped when I asked him about the bonus. Said he learned not to think about it after it stressed him out last year.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) April 2, 2017
So maybe Quenneville could tinker with his power play minutes or ease off the heavy doses of offensive zone starts for a bit, but that’s not how he’s gotten Panarin to play at such a high level in the first place. With a Stanley Cup run around the corner, now certainly isn’t the time to try anything funky in the name of potentially preventing a player from earning money, even if it would be smart business in many ways.