After locking up Artemi Panarin, what's next for Blackhawks?

After locking up Artemi Panarin, what's next for Blackhawks?

Artemi Panarin and the Blackhawks have agreed to terms on a two-year, $12 million contract extension, a source confirmed to Insider Tracey Myers, and is expected to be announced Thursday.

The hard part is over with. But the real work is just beginning.

First off, credit both sides for compromising here.

Panarin, who was set to become a restricted free agent on July 1, is 25 years old and at the prime of his NHL career. He absolutely would have earned more money and term on the open market, but accepted a bridge deal because of his desire to stay with the cap-strapped Blackhawks.

The good news for the Blackhawks is they got Panarin at a great price. The bad news is it opens up the possibility of risking losing the Russian winger in 2019-20 for nothing when he hits unrestricted free agency.

A long-term deal simply isn't in the cards right now, but lots can change in two and a half years. That's a discussion for a different day, though.

The most important thing is the Blackhawks maximized their Stanley Cup chances over the next couple years by making sure a legitimate superstar in Panarin didn't become another cap casualty, like Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Teuvo Teravainen in the past.

The challenge now is making the money work.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Chicago has 16 players locked up for next season at $67.55 million, per That doesn't include the potential cap overages, which could reach up to $4 million, although $1.1 million will be shedded from the salary retention on Rob Scuderi's contract.

The Blackhawks are also going to lose one player to Las Vegas in the expansion draft this summer, and the best-case scenario for financial purposes would be Marcus Kruger, who has a $3.03 million cap hit through 2018-19. His contract likely has to move regardless, despite general manager Stan Bowman rewarding him for his patience a year ago by taking a discounted one-year deal.

Will that be enough to fill out the rest of the 23-man roster?

It's unclear how much the salary cap will increase from the current $73 million — if, at all — and the Blackhawks also have to figure out what to do with Scott Darling, who has voiced his preference to remain in Chicago after this season but has earned the opportunity to cash in elsewhere and compete for a No. 1 job as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

There's some reason to be optimistic that a core player with a large contract won't have to be traded away like initially thought, since Panarin's cap hit was projected to be closer to $7 million, but it remains a long shot.

The Blackhawks showed faith in their pipeline this year and the young guns haven't disappointed, meaning Bowman may be able to stack his bottom-six with players on their entry-level deals and feel confident about it. Prospects like Alexandre Fortin ($685,000), Ville Pokka ($925,000) and even Alex DeBrincat ($809,167) could compete for full-time roster spots while banking on guys like Ryan Hartman ($863,333), Vinnie Hinostroza ($717,500) and Nick Schmaltz ($925,000) to take the next step forward.

The math still might not work, depending on the bonuses and what the upper limit will be, and it could mean parting ways with Corey Crawford, who continues to be a bargain at $6 million per year until 2019-20.

It's still early to project how much wiggle room the Blackhawks will have to work with, but the big pieces are in place. Now it's about making them all fit.

Priority No. 1 was finding a way to keep Panarin in Chicago and Bowman managed to get it out of the way with sooner rather than later, giving him months in advance to map out a plan for what's expected to be another busy offseason.

Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

Every Friday this offseason, Charlie Roumeliotis will look to answer your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition.  

When are the Blackhawks going to announce their recent signings?

This question came on Wednesday and the Blackhawks officially announced the signing of 26-year-old Swedish forward Anton Wedin on Thursday. Wedin, who's a 5-foot-11, 194-pound winger, had a breakout season in the Swedish Hockey League and is expected to battle for a full-time roster spot for the Blackhawks in 2019-20.

The other one to watch for is Dominik Kubalik. He has reportedly agreed to an entry-level contract with the Blackhawks, but word is it won't be made official until the 2019 IIHF World Championship ends. He's currently representing the Czech Republic, which advanced to the semifinals on Thursday. Kubalik's rights were acquired by the Blackhawks from Los Angeles in January for a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Does Crawford get extended during the summer?

Corey Crawford has one year left on his six-year contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. The expectation is that he will be re-signed — and he should be. When that comes remains to be seen.

Given his health situation, the Blackhawks may prefer to see how the 2019-20 campaign plays out before diving into contract negotiations with their two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie. Or they could try ironing one out starting on July 1 so that it doesn't hang over his head all season long. 

Crawford will be 35 in December, but that should not be the primary concern. It's whether or not the Blackhawks can count on his availability. When healthy, he's still one of the best in the game and the importance of the goaltending position is at an all-time high. Term will be the thing to watch for when it comes to Crawford's next contract.

Outside of the number 3 pick, what players or positions should the Hawks target in the draft?

The Blackhawks' philosophy is to take the best available player, especially in the first round of the NHL Draft. In 2018, the hope for the organization was that they would come away with a forward and defenseman in Round 1 but instead landed two defensemen (Adam Boqvist at No. 8 and Nicolas Beaudin at No. 27). Same with 2017 when they ended up Henri Jokiharju (No. 29) and Ian Mitchell (second round, No. 57 overall).

The later rounds (4-7) are where that thinking gets trickier because there isn't as much separation between the best available players. At that point — if it's close — positional need might be the deciding factor. 

Given the surplus of high-end defensemen in the pipeline, it's easy to say the Blackhawks should focus more on forward depth and the goaltending position. And that's probably true. But you still want to take the player with the highest ceiling because there's value in developing players the right way and making them attractive trade pieces down the line if there's no room for them on the Blackhawks roster. 

Favorite UFA targets? How do those affect your draft, if at all?

This is an interesting question, and the cliché answer is that it shouldn't impact the draft at all. In fact, the draft may have more impact on what the Blackhawks do in free agency more than vice versa.

The top of the draft is loaded with centers (Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, Jack Hughes, Peyton Krebs, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras). The other name generating buzz is Bowen Byram, who's a defenseman. If the Blackhawks pick one of those centers at No. 3 overall, which is very possible, they'll be adding that player — whether he's NHL ready next season or not — to a center group that already includes Artem Anisimov, David Kampf, Jonathan Toews and Dylan Strome. 

Toews is going to retire a Blackhawk. Strome is likely going to earn a long-term contract as well. And Kampf appears to be the perfect fourth-line center. Which leaves one center spot left. 

The odd man out may be Anisimov, but even so, there might be less of an inclination to sign a center to a long-term deal this summer if they draft a center at No. 3 because they will have filled that long-term need through the draft. If it's still an area they'd like to address in the short-term, then that could change the Blackhawks' way of thinking going into July 1.

Is Collin Delia the best option behind Crawford or are there other goalies in the system who are ready?

The Blackhawks are very much invested in Delia as Crawford's backup for the 2019-20 season. GM Stan Bowman said as much during exit interviews.

"I think Delia has taken a nice step as a pro this second year," Bowman said. "He didn't play a lot of NHL games, but certainly early on when he was playing a lot, he was really, really good. The hardest part for someone like Collin is trying to adjust to the NHL to not playing every night. I think when he came up and played in a few consecutive games, he was really good. And once we started rotation a bit, that's an adjustment for a young goalie. He wasn't sharp. But now he goes back to Rockford and I think he's the No. 1 or No. 2 in the American League in all his statistics. So he's doing all he can do to show that he's ready. That's nice knowing we have him signed for a couple of years and his best years are ahead of him." 

Kevin Lankinen is somebody that's quietly emerging as an intriguing prospect for the Blackhawks. He was put in tough spot this past season, starting with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL then rotating in and out with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL, where he had a 2.50 goals against average and .910 save percentage in 19 appearances. 

At the 2019 IIHF World Championship, he's been a big bright spot for Finland. He has a 1.83 GAA and .916 save percentage in six games. The Blackhawks want to see him handle No. 1 responsibilities in Rockford before putting him into the conversation as a potential NHL backup.

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Blackhawks fill assistant coach vacancy with hiring of Tomas Mitell


Blackhawks fill assistant coach vacancy with hiring of Tomas Mitell

One month after "mutually" agreeing to part ways with assistant coach Don Granato, the Blackhawks have hired 38-year-old Tomas Mitell as his replacement on Jeremy Colliton's staff. 

Mitell spent the past two seasons as head coach of AIK Hockey (Allsvenskan) in Sweden, where he guided the team to an overall record of 64-27-13. He led AIK to a league-best 35-8-9 record during the 2018-19 campaign, with their 35 wins and 109 points each setting franchise records.

Perhaps more notably: Mitell served as an assistant coach under Colliton with Mora IK (Allsvenskan) during the 2016-17 season, so there's obvious familiarity between the two. 

Mitell rounds out Colliton's staff that also includes assistant coach Sheldon Brookbank and veteran goaltending coach Jimmy Waite. It's a young group behind the Chicago bench, with Colliton (34), Brookbank (38) and Mitell (38) each having little NHL coaching experience but offer a new-school way of thinking.

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