Artemi Panarin says good fit with Blackhawks motivated him to leave money on the table

“You can’t earn all the money in the world.”

Artemi Panarin had the opportunity to go for the big money in the upcoming offseason. Currently in the midst of another big, point-piling season with the Blackhawks, the superstar winger was going to hit restricted free agency as one of the most coveted players in hockey.

Now that’s not going to happen because Panarin has signed a two-year, $12 million contract extension with Chicago. It’s a big gamble on himself, not unlike when he first arrived here with a bonus-laden contract that could potentially pay out in full. As he told reporters Thursday, it’s partially because the Blackhawks are the team he wants to play with.

“Chicago gave me a chance to play at the very highest level,” Panarin said, via Mark Lazerus. “I like everything about the team and the environment here. You can’t earn all the money in the world.”

Now, maybe Panarin couldn’t have earned all the money in the world — that seems reserved for oil tycoons and big tech company CEOs — but we should be clear about how much he potentially left on the table.

There were reports that Panarin was seeking a long-term deal worth at least $6 million annually from the Blackhawks before the season started. That number naturally went up over the past few months as the winger found himself near the top of NHL leaderboards again.

If Panarin was capable of landing a six-year deal worth $7 million annually, he just left $30 million on the table. In a more extreme scenario, where he’s able to match his friend Vladimir Tarasenko’s contract of eight years at $7.5 million per, he just left $48 million on the table.

That would be unlikely, but consider the situation: the Blackhawks let the clock run down to July 1 for some reason, then get offer sheeted that exact contract. Per NHL RFA compensation rules, Chicago would only get back first-, second- and third-round picks (one each) from the team if they couldn’t match. It just so happens that the marker for a team getting TWO first-round picks, a second-rounder, and a third-rounder is ... $7.51 million per year. Now, the Blackhawks seem to know what they’re doing, which is why they were never going to get backed into this situation.

But even if you stuck to something much more realistic like six years and $42 million, that’s still a hefty $30 million in guaranteed that Panarin is missing out on. As anyone who follows sports knows, a lot can happen in two years when you’re banking on staying healthy and producing at an elite level.

On the flip side, there are reasons why Panarin bet on himself. Part of why he took a two-year deal is that he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2019 now. The Blackhawks will completely lose their rights to him, and he’ll be free to pursue whatever kind of contract he wants with whoever he wants.

Additionally, starting in 2019, he’ll be old enough (age 27) to be eligible for a no-movement clause in his contract. Panarin’s agent, Tom Lynn, specifically mentioned the no-movement clause in his comments regarding the extension Wednesday night.

“We both, in a friendly way, recognized a long-term deal wasn’t feasible ... not only money-wise but he’s two years away from getting no-movement clauses,” Lynn said, via Chris Hine.

So you can see what Panarin is angling for here: two more big years, then an absolutely monster long-term contract with a bigger salary and a no-movement clause that runs into his mid-30s. In doing so, he’d having a NMC on his deal from age 27 through the contract, instead of being signed with the Blackhawks into his 30s on a deal without a NMC.

Panarin still has the relative security of earning roughly $19 million over his first four NHL seasons, so it’s not like he’s making this choice without giving himself some cushion. But as you can see, the stakes here are high.

Instead of focusing on that, though, Panarin seemed set on making sure he’ll lived up to the commitment he just made.

“It’s nice to get it out of the way,” he said. “Some of the pressure is relieved. But some additional pressure is now here, because I need to justify the trust that has been given to me, and perform as expected or better.”

Part of this is some basic “saying the right things” you hear from every athlete who has been trained by media professionals for years, but when Panarin says this isn’t about money, you can believe him. This could’ve been a much, much more lucrative contract (in terms of guaranteed money) for him. It potentially would’ve meant forcing his way out of Chicago, though, and based on his actions and his words, it’s clear he wasn’t ready to do that.

Back in the spring of 2015, before Panarin signed with the Blackhawks, there was a line of teams trying to sign him. He chose them over teams that offered similar or more money because he felt it was the right place for him to grow as a hockey player. Now he’s made the same choice again, to stay in Chicago, presumably because he feels like it’s what he hoped it’d be. He certainly looks like he’s having fun out there, although that might be partially because he gets to celebrate so much (it’s definitely because he gets to celebrate so much).

The Blackhawks still have a salary cap mess on their hands in the near future, but right now, everyone seems pretty thrilled. Panarin included.