Hey, there. You’d look good in our shirt.
The Blackhawks can’t be quite that forward with Artemi Panarin because he still plays for the Blue Jackets, but they’re not hiding what they think about him and his upcoming free agency. Panarin is the one who got away, by their own admission, and his visit to the United Center brought out all their wistful feelings.
Panarin, who had two goals and an assist against his former team in Columbus’ 5-2 victory, was the only opposing player to get a cheer from the home crowd Saturday when starters were announced. They were less enthusiastic when his goal late in the first period put the Blue Jackets up 2-1.
“He’s such a dynamic player,” said Patrick Kane, who has talked openly of a reunion during the last month. “He could play well with anyone, to be honest with you. He’s a guy that can take over a game by himself. He’s a game-breaker.”
The Hawks could use another one of those as they try to rebuild themselves into a contender. It’s not the only help they need, but a 27-year-old scoring threat in his prime would be a nice fit playing opposite Kane.
Panarin put up 61 goals and 90 assists in two seasons with the Hawks before they regrettably traded him because of salary-cap concerns.
He has been a star for the Blue Jackets this season with 24 goals and 43 assists, and coach John Tortorella called him “easily in the top five [players] in the National Hockey League.”
Panarin declined through a team spokesperson to speak to the media. The Russian-born player has rarely given interviews in English and used a translator to answer questions when he played for the Hawks.
The language barrier wasn’t a problem for him and Kane, though. Their chemistry came easily on the ice and away from it.
“You find certain ways to communicate, whether it’s hand gestures or sometimes I found myself talking in a Russian accent,” Kane said. “I found he understood a little bit better when I did that. He was really fun to be around.
“Funny kid. Fun to be around. Fun to talk to. Fun to mess around with, talk hockey with, talk about different things with. He became a great friend when he was here.”
They were so close that Panarin surprised Kane with a high-end watch the night before the teams played in October as a thank you for helping him hit contract incentives when he played for the Hawks.
“It was a pretty special move by someone to do that,” Kane said. “I thought we were just meeting up to catch up. Didn’t really know that was coming. It definitely took me aback, for sure.”
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Ah, the memories. Will they make more?
The Hawks aren’t tipping their hand and would risk penalties for tampering if they did, but general manager Stan Bowman told the Sun-Times recently that they’re in good-enough shape cap-wise that no free agent will be out of their price range.
The Blue Jackets will probably lose out in this love triangle, though, as it looks increasingly unlikely that they’ll be able to re-sign him this summer. Panarin said recently he wants to test the market to see if “there are better options” than remaining in Columbus.
That puts him in play for a trade leading up to the Feb. 25 deadline despite the Blue Jackets being in good shape for a playoff berth. They might have to concede this season in order to get something in return for a player who seems certain to leave them.
Panarin is playing well amid the uncertainty and staying patient. It won’t be long before he takes control of where he plays.
“You’ve got to give him credit,” Kane said. “It’s his career. It’s his life. He wants to do what he wants to do. Who knows what’s going to happen? It’s going to be interesting to see, though.”