Another former Blackhawk will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.
And coming back to Chicago could be on his wish list.
That’s according to this report from Scott Powers of The Athletic, who wrote on Friday that Columbus Blue Jackets forward Artemi Panarin would consider signing with the Blackhawks should he hit the open market next summer.
Panarin has given the Blue Jackets a deadline of Sept. 13 to negotiate a new deal with his agent, Daniel Milstein — that’s when Columbus opens training camp this fall — according to the initial report from Russian website SovSport.ru.
The upcoming NHL season is the final year of the two-year, $12 million deal that Panarin signed while still a member of the Blackhawks. Last summer, he was traded to Columbus in a deal that brought forward Brandon Saad back to Chicago along with goaltender Anton Forsberg. Panarin continued his rise to stardom in Columbus, scoring 27 goals with 55 assists as part of a Columbus team that qualified for the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. And while Panarin flourished, the Blackhawks offense faltered as the team missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
Signing Panarin to a free agent deal would likely require financial gymnastics from general manager Stan Bowman. According to CapFriendly, the Blackhawks have only 12 players under contract for next season, with about $20.7 million in salary cap space. Although the salary cap could increase again, the Blackhawks would need to add about 10 more players. And young players like Nick Schmaltz, Dylan Sikura and Gustav Forsling will all be restricted free agents and likely need raises from their current salaries, each under $1 million.
It’s certainly not impossible, but Panarin will earn a substantial raise over his $6 million salary for the 2018-19 NHL season and that price tag may place him out of Chicago’s range, no matter how much mutual interest is involved.