Blackhawks

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 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.

Corey Crawford Keeps 2018-19 Mask Design

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USA Today

Corey Crawford Keeps 2018-19 Mask Design

Corey Crawford is a man who knows what he likes. Hockey By Design on Twitter shared a photo of Crawford’s mask for the 2019-20 season and it looks like he will be rocking the same airbrush mask he did last season. The design, by Stephane Bergeron of Griff Airbrush, features the Blackhawks logos and feathers backed a by a sleek black mask. What can we say, Crawford keeps it classic.

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Blackhawks mailbag: Could more trades be coming before 2019-20 season opener?

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AP

Blackhawks mailbag: Could more trades be coming before 2019-20 season opener?

Charlie Roumeliotis answers 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. 

Is there any chance we see the Hawks make a trade before the season starts?

The Blackhawks had as active a summer as any team, revamping their roster and filling out their depth through trades and free agency. And because of that, it's going to be an extremely competitive training camp.

While the organization acknowledged that it's important to be 26, 27 players deep throughout the course of an 82-game season, the Blackhawks have a handful of players fighting for the same spot or two: Drake Caggiula, Dominik Kubalik, Alex Nylander, Brendan Perlini, Dylan Sikura and Anton Wedin. Heck, even Kirby Dach.

August is always the dead period around the NHL. But come September, it wouldn't be surprising to see some movement around the league when teams figure out what they have on the ice. Training camp and preseason games are a time for GMs to evaluate who may be getting squeezed out, whether there's a breakout prospect emerging and it's also when the pressure point of having to be compliant with the cap.

The Blackhawks could be one of those teams looking to make a tweak or two before Opening Night, but don't expect anything significant.

Do you think Nylander makes the team this year or does he spend another season in the AHL? If he does makes the team, who do you see him fitting on a line with?

Alex Nylander is going to be given a fair shot to make the Blackhawks out of training camp, and it would be a disappointment if he didn’t. He was taken No. 8 overall in 2016 and simply hasn’t taken that next step in his development yet.

Perhaps the situation in Buffalo played a role in that, but it will truly be up to Nylander whether he does unlock his true potential in Chicago. There isn’t a reason for him not to. It’s a much healthier situation and the spotlight isn’t on him.

If Nylander does make the team, expect him to play with offensively-gifted players — guys who can help bring out the best in his abilities and think the game at the same level. But playing with those types of players also means you're drawing top competition on a nightly basis, so he will have to earn it.

Do you think all the additions this summer may be a strategic move to help prepare the Hawks for the expansion draft? (Keeping the prospects off the team till midseason or something so they remain draft protected/ineligible?)

Good question. The summer of 2020 is going to be a fascinating one for the Blackhawks because that's when teams are going to start making some moves ahead of the 2021 expansion draft. And as of right now, the Blackhawks are going to expose a really good player, whether they pick the seven forwards and three defensemen option or the eight skater one.

Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews all have no-movement clauses, so they must be protected (unless the player approves of being exposed, which is highly unlikely). Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome are two others who must be protected, so that's six right there. Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw are two others who are eligible. Same with Calvin de Haan, Olli Maatta and Connor Murphy. And if Erik Gustafsson signs an extension, he must be protected also.

Again, the list is deep. But to answer your original question, the primary focus this summer was to fill needs across the roster (physicality and defensive-minded players) and doing so through trades was the best possible option because they were able to get guys with term and a reasonable cap hit. Free agency is where the overpayment happens. The goalie situation for the Blackhawks is one to watch ahead of the 2021 expansion draft. 

As far as prospects go, Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach will not be eligible for the expansion draft no matter how many games they play in this season and next because the draft happens before the 2021-22 calendar season. So that will not play a role in the organization's decision regarding when they play in the NHL.

What are your expectations for the goaltending tandem in Rockford? Delia appears to be the current starter, but Lankinen was really impressive this summer for Finland. Small-ish sample size, but he was phenomenal. Do you think it will end up being an even split at some point?

Collin Delia may have signed a three-year extension with the Blackhawks, but that doesn’t mean the organization doesn’t want to give Kevin Lankinen a strong look also. Delia has earned the right to be the starter, but the split between he and Lankinen will likely be closer to 50-50 if both goalies are performing.

Lankinen was sensational between the pipes for Finland at the 2019 IIHF World Championship, helping lead his country to a gold medal. But Delia is also taking significant steps in his development and doing so at a rapid pace. It should be a healthy competition in Rockford.

With so much prospect talk focused on Dach, Boqvist, & Delia (and rightfully so) is there a dark horse prospect (I'm talking about that under the radar grinder) fans should keep their eyes on & where are they expected to be playing this year so we can follow?

Two prospects come to mind when discussing potential dark horses: MacKenzie Entwistle and Philipp Kurashev. Both of them will be playing in Rockford this season.

Entwistle and Kurashev took significant steps in their development this past season, with Entwistle playing a key role in the Guelph Storm winning the OHL championship and Kurashev leading the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championships in scoring with six goals in seven games.

Entwistle is a player who knows exactly what his role will be in the NHL and has already embraced it: a bottom-six forward, reliable penalty killer and a leader on and off the ice. And that’s something the Blackhawks value about him.

Kurashev is more offensively skilled and has some sneaky upside to be a potential breakout player as a fourth-round pick. Keep an eye on him.

Is it October yet?

This really has felt like a long summer, hasn’t it? We’re almost there, Zane. 

A few checkpoints are coming up on the schedule though that may help speed up the process: Traverse City prospects tournament from Sept. 6-11, training camp festival on Sept. 15 and the first preseason game on Sept. 16. We're getting closer.

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