Artemi Panarin

Should the Blackhawks explore bringing back Artemi Panarin?

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USA TODAY

Should the Blackhawks explore bringing back Artemi Panarin?

Here's an interesting development as we approach the NHL Draft: Artemi Panarin has informed the Blue Jackets that he's not ready to consider an extension "at this time" and because of that, Columbus is testing the market for the Russian winger, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen responded to the report shortly after in a statement released by the team:

"Artemi is an elite National Hockey League player. Our position has been that we want him to be a Blue Jacket for many years and that has not changed. He has a year left on his contract, so there is plenty of time to work towards that end. Should anything change moving forward, we will address it at that time and any decision we make will be in the best interest of our club.”

Ironically, Panarin was traded to Columbus on the afternoon of last year's draft as part of a blockbuster package that sent Brandon Saad back to Chicago. It shook up the hockey world, and has the potential to do so again.

Panarin is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, but is free to sign an extension with Columbus on July 1. Clearly, that doesn't seem to be in the cards right now and it's why the Blue Jackets have to put out feelers. They can't risk losing him for nothing.

On the flip side, Panarin has every right to test the open market. He has one year left on his contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. He's due for a hefty raise, will be 27 years old next summer — the prime of his hockey career — and will certainly be looking for a long-term deal after accepting a bridge contract with the Blackhawks.

Speaking of whom, should his former team explore bringing him back to Chicago now that he's on the market?

Every general manager should and will do their due diligence and call for an asking price, Stan Bowman included. Those conversations might start with Alex DeBrincat or Nick Schmaltz, and if that's the case, you say thanks but no thanks and move on. 

The Blackhawks have the Nos. 8 and 27 picks in this year's draft as possible ammunition, but the Blue Jackets are ready to take that next step. They were up 2-0 in their first-round series before losing four straight to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. It's unlikely they'd be looking to center a potential deal around draft picks. 

The only way you even consider it from the Blackhawks perspective is if Panarin is guaranteed to sign a long-term extension at a price you're comfortable with, but that's one of the main reasons why they traded him in the first place. 

To cap it all off, trading for Panarin wouldn't even address the Blackhawks' biggest need and that's a Top 4 defenseman. Those don't grow on trees. The Blackhawks will have the cap space to sign a player like James van Riemsdyk to patch up their top 6. You can't say the same for the free-agent blue line group.

So while it may certainly be fun for Blackhawks fans to come up with possible trade scenarios to get Panarin back in an Indianhead sweater, it just doesn't make great sense for a variety of reasons.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Will a reunion heat up a cold Blackhawks offense?

Will a reunion heat up a cold Blackhawks offense?

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane together on the same line. Call it the nuclear option, or the in-case-of-emergency-break-glass combination. It can have a few nicknames but when coach Joel Quenneville resorts to putting those two together, it has only one meaning: The Blackhawks are desperately looking to boost production.

Patrick Sharp joined Toews and Kane at Tuesday’s practice as the Blackhawks continue to try and rekindle their offense. Quenneville has expressed his reluctance to go this route many times in the past, and understandably so: you’re loading up one line and limiting your forward depth quite a bit. But when you’ve reached the point when your team can’t buy a goal, you do what you gotta do.

“Right now we haven’t had the team scoring so we’re trying to get that first and maybe things will look on balance as we’re going along. But I feel if they can score and other lines can score, maybe there’s balance that way, too,” Quenneville said. “We’re just looking at any way right now to recapture what it’s like to score because we know it’s there."

The Blackhawks’ 5-on-5 scoring has been a problem for a while now. The overall stats are deceptive: through 15 games the Blackhawks have 28 goals, which places them 13th in the NHL. But 14 of those 5-on-5 goals came in their first two games against Pittsburgh and Columbus. So they’ve scored just 14 more 5-on-5 goals over their last 13 games. Ouch.

To repeat, in case of emergency…

As for the players involved, they’re ready to give it a shot again.

“You’ve got a playmaker/puck-handler, a grinder, a shooter. We all have speed, we all kind of think the same way,” Sharp said. “It’s been a while since we’ve been a unit but if that line plays next game, hopefully we can do something.”

Toews and Kane are also usually thrown together in the postseason when the Blackhawks are looking for a knockout punch. When they got together for some games last season, the usual magic wasn’t there. Last year, Kane and Artemi Panarin were the magic combo. Still, the Blackhawks need to do something to generate some offense.

“We’re always a good line the three of us. And I’ve always said when I play with Kaner I always seem to be able to disappear and he can buy himself time and space with the puck so well that I can go to the net or go to areas where the puck might show up after we get scoring chances or shots,” Toews said. “With Sharpie, he’s such a good finisher and he can just make plays and always seems to be in the open ice with the puck under control.”

Toews and Kane are together again, this time with Sharp. The glass has been broken. The Blackhawks are desperate to find answers, and getting the band back together again needs to have a ripple effect, fast.

“That's the goal: create some magic,” Kane said. “The biggest thing is we've got three good players on the line so make sure you're not standing around waiting for the other guy to do it. Go and make stuff happen yourself and when you add two players like that, good things should happen.”