The Blue Jackets realize that they’ve lost Artemi Panarin, their star left winger who still has a year left on his deal. They know that the 26-year-old wants to be in a big city with a large, vibrant Russian population, which means he’ll most likely end up back in Chicago, or maybe LA or somewhere in the Ranger-Islander-Devil metro-NY area.
Panarin will be an unrestricted free agent next July 1, after only four seasons in the NHL, and he has full control of the narrative and the pay rate — the latter likely to land around the $9.5m per season the Bolts recently handed fellow Russian Nikita Kucherov on an eight-year deal.
Boston can’t match any of those cities on the Russians-per-square-inch scale, but the Hub is a world-class city with a perennial playoff contender, and the Bruins could accommodate his salary. He would be the dream answer to landing David Krejci an elite winger on the second line, leaving the Bruins with arguably the two top left wingers in the game.
Consider the near lockstep production of Brad Marchand and Panarin the last three seasons, which includes Panarin’s first two seasons in Chicago before he was dealt to CBJ due to the Hawks’ cap concerns:
Marchand: 225 games: 110-121—231.
Panarin: 243 games: 88-145—233.
If you assume those numbers mean Panarin is more of a passer than a shooter, you would be correct. He is a gifted stickhandler, his beguiling keep-away skills reminiscent of the likes of ex-Boston pivots Marc Savard and Adam Oates. Krecji, 32, would be in heaven, finally paired with a guy who not only could anticipate and convert his feeds, but who would be just as likely to dish them right back and perhaps boost Krejci to the 30-goal plateau for the first time (he has averaged but 16 a year in his 11 NHL seasons).
Blues Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen, the former Bruins winger, met Sunday in Nice, France, with Panarin’s agent. According to the Athletic’s Aaron Portzline, agent Dan Milstein reported he had a “good conversation” with Kekalainen and that was about it. Radio silence on the contract front. Portzline followed later in the week with word that Panarin will shut off all contract talk — if there is any — as of Sept. 13, the start of training camp.
Again, the Jackets know where this is going. Panarin is young, single, and wants a certain big-city buzz in his life that can’t be found readily in the greater The Ohio State University environs.
Boston can provide the buzz, although, as noted, it falls short on, shall we say, Russian infrastructure. That’s true, too, in the Boston dressing room. With Anton Khudobin now doing business in Dallas, the Bruins are without a Russian on the roster. Until selecting Pavel Shen with the 212th pick in June, they hadn’t drafted a Russian since 2011, when they took Alexander Khohlachev, only to see him return to Russia two years ago.
If this plays out as expected, Panarin will start the season in Columbus, where he is on the books for one more year at $6 million. Rather than lose him for zero compensation next July, the Jackets will be forced to move him prior to the February 2019 trade deadline, likely asking for the standard deadline deal — a player, a prospect, and a draft pick.
The alternative, albeit unlikely, would be for Kekalainen to solicit offers for Panarin now, and allow teams first to negotiate an extension with him. In such a scenario, the return would be far better for Columbus than it would be next February, given that the acquiring team would be adding Panarin as an asset under its control for up to eight seasons. In February, teams would be faced with acquiring Panarin as a rental.
Now the painful part. The Bruins would have to yield at least two young plug-in, ready-to play roster players. The good news: They have those kinds of players, such as left winger Jake DeBrusk and defenseman Brandon Carlo. The bad news: the Bruins have DeBrusk and Carlo, both 21, figured as a key part of their future. Both are popular with the Black-and-Gold fan base. So it would hurt. But it’s supposed to hurt. Think of what kind of return the Bruins would be asking for Marchand if they were able to shop those 231 points the Li’l Ball o’Hate amassed the last three seasons.
Panarin is a unique, young, elite, and exciting performer, one who this time next year will have his name on a very rich deal. Why not Boston? The Russian factor aside, he couldn’t ask for a better roster fit than a club that has Patrice Bergeron and Krejci as its 1-2 centers.
In Boston, Panarin also would be playing for a coach, Bruce Cassidy, who would allow him all the creative space he would want. That’s also a critical selling point. We saw how that lack of player-coach fit worked against the Bruins holding on to highly skilled young forwards in Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin. Cassidy’s raison d’etre is offense, which, by the way, isn’t what Panarin has experienced in Columbus the last two seasons with John Tortorella behind the bench.
All too much to ask if you’re a Bruins fan? Probably. But summer is nothing if not for dreaming, and Panarin would be a dream fit.
Thornton tops $100 million
The $5 million deal Joe Thornton recently signed in San Jose, keeping him on the Sharks roster for a 21st NHL season at age 39, increased the total of all his NHL contracts, including his entry-level deal with the Bruins, to $109,675,000. Not bad for a kid who totaled $2.75m his first three seasons in the Hub of Hockey.
As staggering as that figure looks, Jumbo Joe has plenty of company in the NHL’s $100 million club, although most of those players, such as John Tavares, will need to play out the terms of their existing deals before officially reaching that plateau.
Below, a look at some of the NHL’s other $100m-plus contract(s) club:
Top Bruins money earners:
BC’s Brown joins Quinn’s team
After 13 years as one of Jerry York’s assistants at BC, including his role as the associate head coach since 2012, Greg Brown packed up Tuesday at the Heights to become one of David Quinn’s assistants on the Rangers staff.
Brown, 50, was a teammate of Quinn’s on the ’86 USA team that won a bronze in the IIHF World Junior tournament. Brown turned pro in ’90 after three seasons on the BC backline, then played in Europe (Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany) for seven seasons after a brief NHL tour.
Only days after taking the Ranger job, Quinn met with longtime NHL bench boss Lindy Ruff, who remained under contract from the Alain Vigneault coaching regime. Comfortable with the fit, Quinn opted to keep Ruff aboard, then hired Brown and David Oliver, an old pal from AHL Lake Erie, where Quinn was coach and Oliver the GM.
Oliver, a former NHL journeyman right winger, in recent years was Colorado’s director of player development.
Meanwhile, York will turn 73 on Wednesday and is headed to a 25th season behind the Eagles bench. He’ll need to make a hire now with Brown — previously considered the heir apparent at BC — gone to the Blueshirts. Assistants Mike Ayers and ex-Bruin Marty McInnis, both hired as assistants in 2013, are expected back in 2018-19.
Brown will have at least two familiar faces on the Blueshirt bench: ex-Eagles Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider.
OUT OF TIME
Seidenberg still seeking work
Headed into the weekend, longtime Bruins favorite Dennis Seidenberg was among a dozen NHL defensemen, all of them 30 and over, who had yet to find work for the upcoming 2018-19 season.
As a group, the 12 D’men averaged a $3.82m cap hit in ’17-’18, and none was on the books for under $1.25m. Winnipeg’s Toby Enstrom (among the few remaining Thrasher draft picks) topped the payroll at $5.75m.
Ex-BC Eagle Brooks Orpik ($5.5m) won a Cup with Washington and then was dished to the Avs, who promptly bought him out — a cost the Avs happily suffered in order to acquire would-be No. 1 goalie Philipp Grubauer from the Caps. Recent rumors have had Orpik hitching on again in D.C. , enabling him to recover some of the $1.5 million he lost in the buyout.
The 12 aged blueliners still without jobs, with age and 2017-18 cap hit:
More than a handful, possibly including Seidenberg, no doubt will call it a career. Seidenberg, who won the Cup here in 2011, was hindered by injury last season and suited up for only 28 games with the Islanders. He extended his run in Brooklyn after his abrupt buyout by the Bruins two years ago.
A few on the list weren’t bona fide NHLers in 2017-18. For instance, Stoner didn’t play anywhere last season, after being shipped to Vegas from Anaheim in the expansion draft. Fayne, who signed as a UFA in Edmonton four years ago, spent all season in the AHL. Garrison played eight games with the Knights, but otherwise was in AHL Chicago all season.
Emery drowning a ‘misadventure’
Ex-NHL goalie Ray Emery drowned early last Sunday morning in Hamilton, Ontario, intending to go for a swim when he jumped off a boat at the west end of Lake Ontario. His death was labeled “a case of misadventure” by Marty Schulenberg, an inspector for the Hamilton Police Department.
Emery jumped off the boat at approximately 6 a.m., and friends promptly called for help when he didn’t surface. Emergency responders arrived quickly on the scene near Leander Boat Club, and the body of the 35-year-old Emery was recovered nine hours later, approximately 20 yards from where he entered the water.
Though by and large gregarious, Emery was also somewhat complex — his past including an incident of road rage and an alleged assault of a trainer while playing the 2008-09 season in Russia. He also battled with avascular necrosis — the death of bone tissue, often in the hips, due to lack of blood supply. Bo Jackson, Derek Sanderson, and Mike Napoli all had their careers impacted, to varying degrees, by the same condition.
Bruins fans perhaps will remember Emery best in his days with the Senators (2002-08) and in his role as backup to Corey Crawford in the 2013 Cup final in which the Blackhawks rubbed out the Bruins.
He finished up his NHL tour with the Flyers in 2014-15 with a career line of 145-86-28.
Dougie Hamilton, shipped last month from the Flames to the Canes, will have another ex-Bruin, Dean Chynoweth, in residence. Chynoweth signed on last week as an assistant coach, along with Jeff Daniels, filling out Rod Brind’Amour’s staff . . . Yet another ex-Bruin defenseman, John Gruden, was named Wednesday as one of Barry Trotz’s assistants on Long Island. Gruden, a ’90 draft pick, played parts of three seasons with the Bruins (1993-96). He just wrapped up a two-year stint at OHL Hamilton, where he led the Bulldogs to a 43-18-7 mark and the league championship . . . New Wild GM Paul Fenton on Thursday named Ex-Providence Friar head coach (2005-11) Tim Army, 55, head coach of the AHL Iowa Wild. Army, who played a season on the Tom McVie-coached Portland Pirates (along with Andy Brickley), has coached for nearly 30 years, including assistant roles with Anaheim, Washington, and Colorado . . . Bruins rookies will hit the ice Sept. 6 in Brighton for the start of training camp and head that night for Buffalo and what has become an annual four-day freshman tournament. Last year’s jamboree included the Bruins, Sabres, Devils, and Penguins, and it helped deliver DeBrusk and Anders Bjork to the varsity roster. The tourney this year will provide a first look at Rasmus Dahlin , the would-be franchise defenseman drafted No. 1 by the Sabres in June . . . Part of Jimmy Vesey’s calculation in not signing two years ago with the Predators, the club that drafted him in 2012, was that he hoped the Rangers would provide him a platform to produce points and score a substantial second contract. Second deals have been increasing in recent years. Witness: the six-year, $40m score David Pastrnak made last summer . However, in his two years with the Blueshirts, Vesey totaled only 33-22—55, which last week brought him a two-year deal with a modest average cap hit of $2.75m . . . Ex-Northeastern standout Kevin Roy, who managed a meager 6-1—7 in 25 games with the Ducks last season, hooked on with the Quacks for another year at $875,000 — a two-way deal that will bring him only $70,000 if assigned to the minors. Roy is small (5-9, 175) and was prone to injury at NU, but delivered Vesey-like numbers at the college level. In 130 games for the Hounds, Roy collected 150 points, while Vesey played 128 games and put up 144 points.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.