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 capfriendly.com. 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.