The Chicago Blackhawks are looking to shake things up after missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade, and a player they jettisoned last season may be available on the trade market.
According to a report from Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman, Columbus Blue Jackets winger Artemi Panarin is not interested in signing a contract extension with the team “at this time,” and that the team is going to test the trade market for his services.
Panarin, who was dealt to Columbus by the Blackhawks in a trade that brought Brandon Saad back to Chicago, scored 27 goals and dished out 55 assists last season, and many Blackhawks fans believe that his exit was part of the reason the team’s offense struggled at times last season.
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen disputed the report, saying that the team remains committed to re-signing Panarin, who has a year remaining on his deal.
“Artemi is an elite National Hockey League player,” he said. “Our position has been that we want him to be a Blue Jacket for many years and that has not changed. 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.”
Panarin is slated to carry a salary cap hit of $6 million for the 2018-19 season, then will become an unrestricted free agent. He is not eligible to officially sign a contract extension until July 1.
It is not clear whether the Blackhawks would want to bring Panarin back if he became available, but he certainly would provide another top-six option for a team that appears to believe its Stanley Cup contention window is still open.
The team finished 21st in the NHL last season in goals scored, averaging 2.8 per game, and they had one of the league’s worst power plays, converting on only 16 percent of their man-advantages.
Patrick Kane, who saw his biggest career success while playing with Panarin during the 2015-16 season, saw his numbers drop last year, scoring seven fewer goals and racking up six fewer assists than he did in the season before.
Ultimately, a Blackhawks pursuit of Panarin would come down to salary cap room, but the team potentially could make that room if they are able to unload Marian Hossa’s $5.3 million salary cap hit in an offseason trade.