By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Breaking news: The Chicago Blackhawks are good. They’re “juggling the extended absences of Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford and ageless cyborg Marian Hossa and still in first place” good. They’re good now, and sources tell me that they’ll be good next season.
Much of the reason for both is 25-year-old winger Artemi Panarin, who on Wednesday agreed to a two-year extension worth a reported $12 million. Panarin, “The Bread Man,” is currently fifth in the NHL in points and along with Patrick Kane has has allowed the team to weather the storm of dings and dents to other major players in the envious core that the Hawks have that allows them to be good, now and in the immediate future.
“What was important was getting Artemi the best deal we could to remain with the Blackhawks,” Panarin’s agent, Tom Lynn, told The Athletic’s Scott Powers, who first reported the extension.
Nobody is going to criticize the deal itself, it being one that for the Hawks’ purposes keeps a crazy good player in the fold for two more years of the team’s excellent core living on and for Panarin serves as a bridge deal that allows him to bet on himself and hit the market for huge money in summer 2019. Instead, there’s been congratulating both sides on cutting the other side some slack to get this deal done.
“It takes awhile for someone to come from the outside to understand why guys are priced one way or another, their age, their rights in the CBA, all that,” Lynn told The Athletic. “Once he got that, he realized this is their best attempt to keep him without doing anything significantly to change the team. They’ll do what they have to do. But he knew to get to the $6-million threshold, they were really trying.”
Oh, but the future salary cap issues, right? Screw them. I mean, for now, at least.
The Blackhawks, lest we forget in our spoiled fan state, will enter the new year having been really good for about a decade. That’s thanks to building and keeping that Toews-Kane-Crawford-Hossa-Duncan Keith core (that now includes Panarin), one being relatively intact for what seems like forever in the modern era of sports free agency, which is nothing short of astounding. They’re good now, so stay good now. That’s what this Panarin deal accomplishes, so cross the salary cap bridge when you get to it. Even if it’s a mere six months from now.
670 The Score’s Jay Zawaski notes regarding the next offseason: “As it stands right now, Chicago will have $6,374,872 to fill nine roster spots (five forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender). That’s $708,319 per spot.”
Little wiggle room exists for Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman, for sure. But, immediacy considered, so what? Panarin is more valuable than the potential losses of a Marcus Kruger or Brent Seabrook (shut up with that Crawford trade noise — the Hawks are a contender because of the always-a-goal-away-from-Jay-Cutler-fan-treatment goalie, and Bowman knows what Scott Darling isn’t). And we’ve seen this movie from Bowman before. His entire Blackhawks existence has been shipping off popular players to the vocal chagrin of the Griswold sweater base between the lesser accomplishments of winning Stanley Cups and being a contender every damn year while somehow giving away your latest crush. (Note: Mine is Artemi Panarin.)
Yeah, that means losing young studs like Brandon Saad and Teuvo Teravainen or comfortable veterans like Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya, but — say it with me — the Blackhawks are still good. Without those guys.
And the Blackhawks will be good next season, salary cap Jenga looking however it will then and costing them a solid player from the current roster. Plus, the Las Vegas expansion team will probably nab someone like a Trevor van Riemsdyk. You can’t fight City Hall when it comes to NHL finances, so why bother worrying when you have a fully functional contender anyway?
It’s not like the cupboard on the farm is bare either.
If the cap stays flat, with no other moves, the Hawks have to fill three or four forward spots and two defensive spots with $6 million. It can actually be done with kids, and kids with promise like (Alex) DeBrincat and (Ville) Pokka and (Nick) Schmaltz. It doesn’t necessarily make for a team that’s any better than this one, but in this NHL that just might be enough anyway.
Regardless, the Blackhawks aren’t building something. This isn’t the Bears looking for a quarterback, the Bulls lying to you about getting younger and more athletic or the White Sox giving you an existential crisis with the Chris Sale trade. The Blackhawks are built. Extending Panarin and figuring out the logistical ramifications whenever is maintenance, necessary maintenance fans should be used to by now. The other Chicago teams (except for you beautiful salary-cap free Cubs) should be so lucky.
The first thought that comes to mind from extending Artemi-freaking-Panarin shouldn’t be “DUH WUDDABUT DA CAP?” It should be “A good team just re-signed an elite player to go along with several elite players to be an elite team for now and next year and probably the year after that, which is really cool.”
Worrying about the salary cap for a first-place team that’s the envy of the league? Not cool.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.