By re-signing Richard Panik to a two-year contract extension Thursday, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman ensured that Jonathan Toews will have a productive, reliable and physical power forward to play with for the next two seasons.
But Bowman also made his quest to retool and reshape the Hawks’ roster in the wake of a first-round sweep that much more challenging.
Panik will make $2.8 million in each of the next two seasons — a hefty raise from the $875,000 he made this past season. A big bump in pay was inevitable coming off a breakout 22-goal season, and the restricted free agent might have gotten even more on the open market. But Panik, who said throughout the season that he very much wanted to stay in Chicago, made it sound as if the Hawks were bidding against themselves and maybe could have gotten him for less.
“I was waiting for the first offer to come in, and the first offer they gave me surprised me,” Panik said. “There wasn’t much thinking -involved. I was really happy to get the first offer [because] it was a good one.”
Panik’s raise was well deserved, but every dollar spent complicates the roster situation. The Hawks have more than $65 million tied up in just 11 players. The number reaches about $71.5 million for 20 players, assuming young players such as Vinnie Hinostroza, John Hayden and Gustav Forsling make the team. And that doesn’t include nearly $3.6 million in overages that will count against next year’s cap, an expected extension for Michal Kempny and possible deals for Dennis Rasmussen, Tomas Jurco and a new backup goaltender.
The salary cap is expected to be around $75 million-$76 million next season (the official number will come in late June), so the Hawks still have some significant maneuvering to do. They’ll rid themselves of one contract in the expansion draft next month, likely -center Marcus Kruger ($3.083 million) or defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk ($825,000). Panik almost -certainly will be among the seven forwards the Hawks protect from the Vegas Golden Knights, along with -Patrick Kane, Toews, -Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov, Ryan Hartman and one other to be determined. The other protection option — four forwards and four defensemen — would allow them to protect van Riemsdyk but almost surely would cost them Hartman or Panik, so it’s largely out of the question.
Regardless, the Hawks needed to bring back Panik. Many of Bowman’s trades in the last couple of seasons haven’t worked out, from Andrew Ladd to Dale Weise to Johnny Oduya. But one of his shrewdest moves was flipping unwanted minor-leaguer Jeremy Morin to the Maple Leafs for Panik, an unwanted minor-leaguer in Toronto.
Panik quickly blossomed into a top-line winger, the power forward the Hawks have been missing since Bryan Bickell’s heyday.
“Richard made tremendous strides this past year, and we were pleased with the consistency he showed throughout the season,” Bowman said in a release. “We are looking forward to having him in Chicago for the next two seasons.”
Toews even went so far as to compare Panik to Hossa — Panik’s countryman and hockey idol — back in March. “He’s turning into that horse that can just carry a few guys on his back,” Toews said.
The 26-year-old Panik had 22 goals — twice his previous career high — and 22 assists, playing all 82 games in his first full season with the Hawks.
“It’s a quick [career] turnaround, but I know how good I am and what I’m capable of and how I can play,” Panik said. “Chicago gave me the opportunity. I wanted to repay them with how I play.”
Now he has been repaid in kind. It’s up to Panik to prove he’s worth it, and it’s up to Bowman — chasing some suddenly elusive postseason success — to make the math work.
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.