In April of 2015, the Chicago Blackhawks took a low-risk, high-reward gamble when they signed a young, talented forward from the KHL to an entry-level contract.
That gamble would pay off, as that forward, Artemi Panarin, quickly took the NHL by storm, scoring 30 goals and 77 total points in 80 games, being awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
Four years later, Panarin, 27 and now with the Columbus Blue Jackets, is among the NHL’s top forwards, displaying the same scoring talent and two-way play that he broke into the league with. With the Blue Jackets season coming to an end last night, all eyes are now on July 1, when Panarin is set to become an unrestricted free agent.
As expected, the Russian star will be among the most coveted names on the open market, with the end result being an eight-figure contract. While the Jackets would love to keep their star forward, it is unlikely that the “Bread Man” will re-sign in Columbus. This was made evident when the Jackets were reportedly shopping him at the trade deadline before ultimately keeping him to go all-in on an ill-fated Stanley Cup run.
With that being said, here are the most likely suitors who will come calling on July 1 for Panarin’s services:
New York Rangers
There’s no bigger sports market than the Big Apple, which is reportedly one of Panarin’s preferred landing spots. The draw of playing in New York City at Madison Square Garden is stronger than most people think. It’s been a couple of years since the Rangers made a big splash in free agency, but this summer could be their opportunity to pounce.
The Blueshirts are loaded with young talent, which will include the second overall selection from this year’s NHL Draft. More importantly, they’re loaded with young Russian talent, which includes Vasily Kravtsov, Igor Shesterkin, Pavel Buchenevich, and Vladislav Namestnikov. The prospect of playing with his Russian compatriots will definitely be a factor in his decision.
New York will enter the offseason with roughly $19 million in cap space to spend, so they should have no issue accommodating Panarin’s massive salary demands. Signing the Bread Man will hasten the Rangers rebuild and could make them playoff contenders as early as next season.
Another preferred landing spot for the Russian star is the team that just hired his first NHL head coach in Joel Quenneville. Panarin had a good relationship with Coach Q, who was reportedly furious when Blackhawks management decided to trade him. A reunion between the two certainly makes sense.
It’s also important to point out that even though Florida lacks a strong hockey following, it makes up for it by having no state income tax, which can’t be said for a big market like New York. If Panarin is inclined to get as much money as he possibly can, then the Panthers may be the team for him.
With the Panthers, Panarin would join forces with Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau to form one of the NHL’s best top lines. His scoring touch is exactly what this team has been lacking, in addition to stability at the goaltender position.
Why bring up Florida’s goaltending, you ask? Well, also entering free agency this offseason is Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who is one of the league’s top netminders. He’s also very good friends with Panarin. If the Panthers are serious about contending, they could attempt to sign both of them this offseason.
Florida will have roughly $20 million in cap space to spend this offseason so they will need to get creative and find a way to dump Roberto Luongo’s contract if they want to bring in both Panarin and Bobrovsky. However, if they can clear the space to do so, they may become the odds-on favorite to land the Russian stars.
New York Islanders
It seems that Artemi Panarin is very intrigued by the idea of playing in New York, whether it’s for the Rangers or the Islanders. While they don’t play at the world’s most famous arena, there is still a lot to like about the Isles.
The Islanders have one the NHL’s most sound brain trusts in place with GM Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz, along with a roster that boasts some quality young talent of their own, headlined by the young sensation Mathew Barzal. The team is also set to move to a brand new arena in Belmont Park in 2021, which is something to keep in mind as well.
With over $35 million in cap space this offseason, signing Panarin should be easy work for the Isles. However, with Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Robin Lehner set to hit free agency, New York may have a difficult time keeping their own guys and signing the star forward.
Last but certainly not least is the Bunch of Jerks, who are the dark horse team in the Artemi Panerin sweepstakes. In the midst of their deepest playoff run in nearly a decade, the Hurricanes will likely want to build off this successful season and stay in win-now mode.
Carolina has one of the best defensive groups in the NHL, but could certainly more scoring talent at the top of their lineup with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. Panarin would be a welcomed addition to a fun and exciting team with a newly energized fanbase.
The Canes will have close to $29 million in cap space, so they’re another team that could afford Panarin’s contract. However, they also need to extend Aho and possibly re-sign their captain, Justin Williams. Additionally, they’ll have a need at goaltender with both Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney set to become free agents. Perhaps they’re another team that could sign both Panarin and Bobrovsky if they get creative.
The Panarin Watch has officially begun. It’s almost time for Artemi to get that bread.
Photo: Blue Seat Blogs