By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The way I see it from several hundred miles away, the situation with Columbus Blue Jackets star forward Artemi Panarin is a pretzel with multiple twists and turns.
It starts with Panarin not only refusing to considering a contract extension with the Blue Jackets but also confirming through his agent Daniel Milstein to Aaron Portzline of The Athletic that after Sept. 13 (the first day of Columbus’ training camp) all business will be put aside and the focus will be solely on playing hockey.
Yes, Panarin has a deadline to end all business while also not participating in any business. If nothing happens, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent next July 1.
This has the Blue Jackets in a bind, although so far general manager Jarmo Kekalainen has refused to budge off his position that Columbus will have Panarin in their lineup at the start of the season and possibly throughout the entire campaign.
So what are other teams, including the Bruins, supposed to make of this situation? Where does the pretzel start and where does it end?
Panarin is one of the elite offensive forces in the NHL. The 26-year-old (he’ll turn 27 Oct. 30) is seventh in total points (233) in the NHL since the start of the 2015-16 season. He’s 16th in points per 60 minutes (2.97) and in assists per 60 (1.85).
Any team would benefit from his talents, especially one seeking a proven wing to complete its top six after missing out on Ilya Kovalchuk and John Tavares, and losing Rick Nash. In this climate, with players of Panarin’s caliber rarely getting to the open market, he’s at least an $8 million player (that’s a minimum where talks would start) and then depending on AAV, he could get anywhere from five to seven years.
The Bruins have their five highest-paid forwards — David Krejci, David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Backes signed at least through the 2020-21 season, so stuffing a Panarin into the forward corps and staying under the NHL salary-cap ceiling, regardless of how much it goes up in the years ahead, would take some creativity. It would probably mean Backes leaving in a salary dump either as part of the Columbus trade or to another team. Moving Krejci or Torey Krug would provide the Bruins the same salary-cap relief but would weaken them in an important lineup spot at the same time as they’re loading up on talent in another spot.
(Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten the salary ramifications of Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo’s second contracts, which are due before next season, and the amount Zdeno Chara will want assuming he continues to play. This is why the pretzel is always difficult to untwist.)
Let’s say the Bruins determine that regardless of what it takes to make salary-cap space, Panarin is the player they absolutely want to add to their group. This also assumes they have assurances he’s going to re-sign in Boston for market value, because the Bruins have already been kicked by the rental market by the Nash deal and figure to be somewhat gun shy about going through that again, even if Panarin is a full-season rental.
Published reports claim the Blue Jackets are only willing to move Panarin for NHL-ready assets, not futures. They’re not in a rebuild and don’t plan to be in one. Well something has to give, because if Panarin’s not signing an extension, what team is going to break up its NHL lineup to add him? It’s doubtful any would go through with that.
Any trade package would have to involve a mix of probably one NHL player and then futures. Interestingly, the Bruins, because of their youth movement, have several NHL players that would also qualify as futures. Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Carlo are in their early 20s with bright futures ahead; Anders Bjork and Ryan Donato have already had some NHL success in brief times in Boston’s lineup.
Looking for a comparable trade for a player of Panarin’s caliber heading into the final year of his contract, but one that didn’t take place near the trade deadline, is like trying to find the smallest molecule on a grain of salt on the pretzel. Some of the bigger name scoring forwards that have been traded at a similar age (Phil Kessel, Jeff Carter, Taylor Hall) have been traded in the midst of long-term contracts.
Last season’s three-way trade between Nashville, Ottawa and Colorado landed Kyle Turris with the Predators early in his walk year in exchange for a hefty prospect package that landed with the Avalanche. The extension, in addition to Matt Duchene going from the Avalanche to the Senators, helped facilitate the deal and may provide a window into what type of maneuvering a Panarin trade would entail, involving Boston or not.
Defenseman Brent Burns was traded from Minnesota to San Jose prior to his walk year in 2011. Under the old collective bargaining agreement, Burns wasted little time re-signing for five years at age 26, after the Sharks traded Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle (who’d just finished his freshman year at Boston University) and a first-round pick to the Wild. The Sharks obviously had confidence they could get a deal done with Burns, and then he rewarded them by becoming a beast and surprisingly posting 75, 76 and 67 points in his age 30-32 seasons.
Setoguchi was an established scorer in the league that may have kept it up were it not for off-ice and on-ice problems. Coyle’s still scratching the surface of his potential. Burns, though, had never had more than 46 points in a season for the Wild. Minnesota could’ve gotten a whole lot more if they could’ve known what Burns would become.
Panarin is already an elite scorer with room to improve, especially in a system like that of Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy.
If you take what the Bruins gave up for Nash and figure a summer trade gives you a full season of Panarin, you have to assume two young NHL players have to go to Ohio. Then the Bruins would have to haggle with the Blue Jackets and debate internally: DeBrusk or Heinen or Donato; Carlo (which would open another can of worms) or Vaakanainen; a first-round pick (to general manager Don Sweeney’s dismay) or a couple picks below the first round?
Although it’d be exciting to see Panarin flying up and down the Garden on Krejci or Bergeron’s wing, this is a pretzel that will probably go uneaten. But for those with interest beyond the Bruins’ involvement, it’ll be interesting to see how the Blue Jackets straighten out this curvy mess.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.