As if enduring a postseason without the Chicago Blackhawks in it wasn’t difficult enough, watching former Hawk Artemi Panarin light up the scoreboard for the Columbus Blue Jackets has made the first week of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a frustrating experience around these parts.
And it didn’t help that Panarin thrived in his new home all season long, while the two main pieces that came back in the summer blockbuster deal — Brandon Saad and Anton Forsberg — underwhelmed with their performances this season.
While keeping Panarin around likely would’ve led to more highlight reel moments between him and Patrick Kane, it wasn’t going to cure what ailed the Blackhawks this season.
Panarin would not have led this Chicago team to a playoff spot.
For starters, Panarin’s goal output was largely replaced in the Blackhawks’ lineup. Panarin scored 31 goals in the 2016-17 NHL season, following that with 27 this year. Blackhawks rookie Alex DeBrincat had 28 during his breakout 2017-18 season.
Of course, that’s not all Panarin brought to the table. His 55 assists this season were tied for 16th in the league, bringing his points total to a career-high 82 during his debut season in Columbus. If Panarin had stayed in town, it’s likely he would’ve skated with Kane again and helped raise Kane’s season output well over the 79-point mark he reached without Panarin on his opposite wing.
One area where Panarin might’ve been expected to help the Hawks the most would be on the power play, where Chicago finished with the league’s 29th-ranked power play, converting on just 15.99 percent of its chances. Columbus didn’t fare much better, though, ranked 25th with a 17.18 percent conversion rate. And during Panarin’s final season in Chicago, the Blackhawks power play was 19th in the league with a conversion rate of 18.03 percent, suggesting that the Hawks’ woeful power play could be more of a systemic issue than a personnel one.
The Hawks didn’t need another player like Panarin, an offensive dynamo who could light up the scoreboard. They already had that in Kane, and having Panarin around always felt like more of a luxury than a necessity. Scoring more often might’ve helped Chicago at times this season, but the gaping wounds in the Blackhawks season were on defense and in net, as we’ve started discussing in our obituary for this 2017-18 season.
There’s an argument to be made that trading Panarin away could’ve yielded more in return or should’ve been used to acquire the top-four defenseman that Chicago so clearly needed during the season. But part of that argument is fueled by the hindsight of an incredibly disappointing season for Saad, who does provide Chicago with two more seasons of salary cap certainty that Panarin did not. And after Panarin’s deal expires in the summer of 2018-19, his new contract will likely command a salary well out of Chicago’s price range.
At the moment, the balance of this trade is wildly in Columbus’ favor. But Saad’s got three more years to prove his worth and had one down season following five strong years in the NHL. There’s still time bring this deal back to a more equitable transaction for both teams. Don’t sleep on Forsberg, either. He’s just 25 years old, and Corey Crawford was 28 before he started to resemble the elite goalie we’ve come to know.
Unless Panarin had a way to keep Crawford from missing half the season with injury or was suddenly able to play as a top-four defenseman, his presence on the 2017-18 Blackhawks roster would not have gotten this team to a playoff spot. Their collective issues on defense were too numerous and too massive to be cured by more offense.