Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Why Artemi Panarin is the Calder Trophy favorite

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Blackhawks: Why Artemi Panarin is the Calder Trophy favorite

Artemi Panarin wasted no time introducing himself to the NHL with a big night in his Blackhawks debut on Oct. 7 against the New York Rangers.

Since then, Panarin has emerged as one of the league's top rookies and the early frontrunner to win the Calder Memorial Trophy for best rookie at 3-2 odds, according to Bovada. Edmonton's Connor McDavid — the heavy preseason favorite — suffered a broken collarbone on Nov. 3 and won't return for approximately another month (or perhaps longer), which likely eliminates him from the conversation.

Following a three-point night in an overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, Panarin bumped his point total to 26 — tied for seventh-best among all players and is five points more than the second leading rookie scorer, Arizona's Max Domi (21 points) — through the first 26 games of the season, a pace that projects him to finish with a point-per-game average.

[MORE: Pavel Bure: Blackhawks rookie Artemi Panarin 'reminds me of myself']

The last rookie to do that was Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin in 2006-07 when he averaged 1.09 points per game with 85 points in 78 games. For comparison's sake, Patrick Kane tallied 0.88 points per game during his 2007-08 rookie season in which he won the Calder Trophy with 72 points in 82 contests.

As the season goes on, Panarin should continue to consistently appear on the scoresheet, even more so if Kane — who's also the early favorite to win the Hart Trophy — continues to play at an MVP level. And that's precisely why it may take some votes away from Panarin, but it shouldn't.

In fact, statistics prove that Kane is actually benefiting from Panarin more than vice versa.

When Kane and Panarin are on the ice together at even strength, they control 57.5 percent of shot attempts, according to hockeyanalysis.com. When they're apart, Panarin is controlling 54.0 percent of even-strength shot attempts while Kane has seen that number drop to 48.4 percent.

For validation, look no further than last year when Kane was in the thick of the Hart Trophy race averaging 1.05 points per game — 64 points in 61 games — before a collarbone injury sidelined the Blackhawks star for the rest of the regular season. Ironically, he had 26 points in the first 26 games last season, identical to Panarin's this year.

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Through 26 games this season, Kane's points per game average is 1.58.

That's more than half a point per game higher than a year ago, a campaign widely considered to be Kane's best to date. That's a significant increase, which has to do with a combination of both Kane elevating his game and Panarin providing a large boost.

So while it's easy to jump to the conclusion that Panarin's numbers are a byproduct of Kane's historic start, the stats confirm Panarin isn't just along for the ride. He's thriving, and his teammates are benefiting greatly because of it.

Most importantly, so are the Blackhawks.

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

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USA TODAY

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

The NHL Draft is over. Farm systems have been restocked and now the focus has shifted to free agency, where the fun is just beginning.

The biggest fish on the market is John Tavares, a franchise-changing center in the heart of his prime. For a little bit, it seemed like the loyal New York Islanders captain was ready to move on after they took another step back by missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

But then Lou Lamiorello became available and was snatched up by Long Island. His first order of business was relieving GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight of their duties, the first real sign that significant changes were coming. The next was securing Barry Trotz as head coach after he couldn't agree to terms on an extension with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

For the first time in a while, there appears to be structure in the front office and coaching staff.

Yet, Tavares has remained committed to visiting with reportedly five teams in Los Angeles during the free agent negotiating window that opened Sunday. And he's absolutely earned that right. San Jose and Toronto are believed to be two of the teams. The rest is unclear.

When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle at the end of the draft on Saturday, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wouldn't confirm nor deny that they were one of the teams scheduled to meet with Tavares.

"I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile.

Whether or not they are, could the Blackhawks realistically even make it work?

They actually have the cap space to do it. Or at least they can make room without shuffling too many cards.

As of Sunday, the Blackhawks have $9.225 million in open cap space to fill out six roster spots. If you can find a trade partner for Marian Hossa's contract, that creates an extra $5.275 million, which brings the total up to $14.5 million. That's without subtracting any real bodies from the roster. 

Tavares is likely to command in the $10 million range for average annual value over the next seven years, and the latter part is key. While it would certainly be challenging to have three players eating up at least $10 million each in cap space — with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at $10.5 million — they could make it work in the short term.

But signing Tavares to a seven-year deal would probably get in the way of the Blackhawks' longer-term goals, which includes re-signing Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz when their entry-level deals expire and even Vinnie Hinostroza when his new two-year contract ends.

Are the Blackhawks willing to risk that?

For Tavares, maybe. But Toews is 30, Kane is 29 and Tavares will be 28 by the time this upcoming season starts. At some point, an infusion of youth would be required to remain competitive for the long term.

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

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USA TODAY

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

The unrestricted free agent market opens up for the NHL on July 1. Five-time All-Star John Tavares is will reportedly be meeting with five different teams to talk about the possibility of leaving the only team he's played for his entire career, the New York Islanders. 

After a highly disappointing 33-39-10 finish to the 2017-18 season, many expect Chicago general manager Stan Bowman to be very aggressive this offseason. When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle if the Blackhawks would be one of the five teams going after Tavares, Bowman gave a very reticent answer.

"I woudn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile. 

"No, I'm not going to comment on that, but I know we're gonna have a lot of discussions over the next five or six days and we'll see where it goes."

Reports indicate that the Islanders and Tavares had been trying to work out the terms of a long-term extension, but with so many attractive options out there, it will be a tough decision for him. There are several teams coming off of playoff runs expected to go after Tavares, including Tampa Bay, Las Vegas and San Jose. In addition to those teams, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be in play as well.

But Chicago's rough year was so out of place for a team so used to winning consistently, that one can imagine their pitch will be enticing.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada had this to say about the Blackhawks potential pursuit of Tavares: "They're not going to tolerate being that bad again, they're going to try something. I think they'll make a run at John Tavares too. I do, I think they'll ask, is there any way we can get him here?"

When taking all of this into account, it is sure to be an extremely exciting free agency period for the Blackhawks. The team is in full "re-tool" rather than "rebuild" mode, and there have been discussions that Kane may be becoming the more vocal leader of the team. But the addition of Tavares to a core of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford could boost the Blackhawks back into Stanley Cup contention.