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Blackhawks mailbag: What will happen with Panarin, Darling?

Here’s hoping everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend. With the NHL turning the lights back on Tuesday after its three-day Christmas break, let’s dive into the latest #HeyLaz Blackhawks mailbag.

@HawksStan
#HeyLaz what do you think will happen to Scott Darling next season?

Scott Darling is in an interesting position. He obviously (and deservedly) wants to be a No. 1 goalie at some point, and he clearly wants to stay with the Blackhawks, his hometown team and the franchise that plucked him out of minor-league obscurity and gave him a chance. But those two things are likely mutually exclusive. Corey Crawford is among the best handful of goaltenders in the league and will always be standing in Darling’s way.

Darling will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. And it’s important to remember that, while this is just his third season with the Hawks, he just turned 28 last week. He can’t afford to sit around and wait much longer for his big chance. Darling has played very well every time he’s been thrust into the No. 1 spot because of various Crawford injuries. And while it’s not certain that another team will hand him a top job, he certainly can win a job outright if he starts in a true 50/50 timeshare.

“I’m auditioning for the Blackhawks right now,” Darling said in New York earlier this month. “I want to be a Blackhawk.”

The Blackhawks will have to make decisions on unrestricted free agent Scott Darling and restricted free agent Artemi Panarin this offseason. (AP Photo)

But another team likely can offer him more money and greater opportunity. That might be hard to pass up, no matter how badly he wants to stay in Chicago.

Beaudacious @BiggityBeau815
Do you think it’s a possibility the Hawks trade Crawford to make room for Panarin money?

After seeing P.K. Subban traded for Shea Weber, I now believe anything is possible in the NHL. But trading Crawford in an effort to re-sign Panarin would be a huge mistake. Crawford is one of the very best goalies in the league, in the conversation right behind Montreal’s Carey Price. He has won two Stanley Cups, and was arguably the best player on the ice for both of those postseasons. And while some still want to paint him as some Trent Dilfer-like system goalie, the beneficiary of a great team in front of him, the truth is quite the opposite. Anyone who has watched the Hawks since the beginning of last season knows that Crawford has bailed out his teammates far more often than his teammates have bailed out Crawford.

At $6 million a season, Crawford is cheaper than Pekka Rinne, and makes about the same as Kari Lehtonen and Mike Smith. He’s a great goalie on a good contract. It’d be lunacy to trade him away in his prime.

Dan Bunnell @Booney20
#HeyLaz What pieces need to fall into place for the Hawks to resign Panarin for ~$7M?

That Crawford answer aside, of course the Hawks need to find a way to re-sign Panarin. But, boy, it’s not going to be easy. With every one-timer from the left circle, Panarin’s price tag gets a little higher. At the start of the season, the expectation was he’d be asking for six years at about $6 million a season. Multiple sources now indicate the ask will be even higher than that, and for good reason. He has emerged as arguably the Hawks’ most important forward — their top possession player, their top power-play threat, and a guy who helped Kane have his best season yet last season, and who helped rejuvenate Hossa earlier this season. He’s fifth in the league in scoring, behind only superstars Connor McDavid, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Tarasenko is the best comparison for Panarin. They’re both 25, they’re similar players, and they’re both entering their primes. And Tarasenko signed an eight-year extension worth $7.5 million a season in the summer of 2015. With a stagnant cap — expectations are it will remain flat, or go up a mere $1-2 million — and so much money tied up in so few players, it’s going to be awfully difficult to make the math work. Compounding matters is the fact that Panarin again is poised to make millions in performance bonuses, most of which will count against next year’s cap.

If the Vegas Golden Knights take Marcus Kruger ($3.083 million) in the expansion draft, that will help. But another big contract will have to go. Moving Crawford, as discussed earlier, would be a mistake. Brent Seabrook is in the first year of an eight-year deal with a $6.875 million cap hit, but like nearly every other star on the team (Crawford included), he has a no-movement clause. And Seabrook is having his best season in years.

Of course, the Hawks simply must re-sign Panarin. But it’s going to be awfully difficult. And as we saw with Brandon Saad, Stan Bowman will take whatever measures he feels necessary to keep his team competitive and compliant.

Jocelyn Hopkinson @Jhop_4
#HeyLaz The team looks like last year’s, with so many goalie wins and one or two productive lines. Concerning or promising if rooks develop?

Yes, this Hawks team, despite its lofty spot in the standings, is very much still a flawed team. Without the spectacular play of Crawford and Darling, they might be fighting for a playoff spot at this point. But this team warrants more optimism than last year’s. For one thing, the defense is so much better and deeper. The fact that Michal Kempny and Michal Rozsival — both of whom have played well this season — can’t even crack the lineup these days is a great sign. Brian Campbell has been exactly what the Hawks hoped for — a reliable, versatile, minutes-eater — and Gustav Forsling and Trevor van Riemsdyk have improved dramatically in the past handful of games.

Beyond that, last year’s truly was a one-line team. This year, Marian Hossa’s resurgence has helped spread the scoring around a bit more. It’s not just Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane scoring. It’s Panarin, Kane, Artem Anisimov, Hossa, and even Ryan Hartman. And if you watched the last two games, you get the sense that Jonathan Toews is due to break out of his prolonged slump in a big way. Toews always has been a streaky scorer, and the smart money’s on him scoring a whole mess of goals in the coming weeks.

Also, the bottom six looks better. The third line of Dennis Rasmussen, Marcus Kruger and Richard Panik has been consistently good over the past few weeks, getting significant minutes down the stretch in close games, taking key defensive-zone draws, frequently flipping the ice, and even potting a few goals in the process. With Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza taking big steps forward in the last month, and Tyler Motte still with a high ceiling, the Hawks look deeper and more promising than last year’s squad.

This team is far from perfect. But it’s in a better position than it was last season, and the conference as a whole is weaker than it was. The Hawks are in great position as they approach the halfway point of the season.

Goro Shigeno @Goro87
Are you surprised 3 cups doesn’t buy Toews much Twitter criticism protection? He’d be Teflon for me if it happened to Canucks!

To explain my theory on Twitter, let me explain my theory on politics. Maybe 10 percent of the country gets its news from Fox News, and maybe 5 percent of the country gets its news from MSNBC. They are (OK, in many cases, I’m) the ones yelling and screaming all the time, while the other 85 percent is generally moderate and too busy living their lives to yell and scream about politics all the time.

Hockey Twitter is like that. Our little echo chamber is incredibly loud and passionate, but we represent about 10-15 percent of the overall fan base. The overwhelming majority of fans appreciate Toews for all he’s done, and know that he’s not over the hill — or too focused on charitable work, or too busy doing yoga, or any of the other absurd comments that have clogged up my timeline lately — to be a great hockey player. Most fans can see the forest for the trees. It’s the 15 percent that think only about the most recent game, and panic at the slightest bit of adversity.

The meatballs are the minority. They’re just a whole lot louder than the rest of us.

Sally Daly @DalySally
#HeyLaz How did you like “Curious Incident”? I liked book, missed play.

I haven’t read the book, but I really enjoyed the play. It was the first time I walked into a show without knowing anything about it since I saw “Urinetown” on Broadway some 13 or 14 years ago. And just like with “Urinetown,” I thought it was great. Visually remarkable, deeply affecting, and very well acted — particularly Gene Gillette as Ed.

Ryan Gill @LicenseToGill
#HeyLaz favorite and greatest Pearl Jam album of all time?
No Code and No Code.

Ken Polifka @Logis08
#HeyLaz Any chance Feb Lines:

Panarin-Anisimov-Kane
Hartman-Hinostroza-Hossa
Rasmussen-Kruger-Panik
Schmaltz-Toews-Motte
No, Jonathan Toews will not be the Hawks’ fourth-line center in February. Sigh.

Newman THFC @helloo_newman
If you were NHL commissioner for a day, what would you change? #HeyLaz

I’d make it mandatory that no game ever start later than 7:10 p.m. local time. The NHL should be trying to grow a new generation of young fans, and you don’t do that by making it impossible for kids to watch a game on a weeknight. I have a 4-year-old. If I took her to a 7:40 p.m. Hawks game, we’d get home after 11 p.m. If the rich people in the 100-level seats can’t get to the rink in time for a 7:10 p.m. start, well, too bad. Look at the crowd during the 6 p.m. Sunday starts. There are always far more children in attendance. That’s a good thing. It’s better for TV, too. The more kids watching, either on TV or live, the better.

Just ask Hawks fans who grew up in the Bill Wirtz era.


barefoot dave @xDQxx
Favorite album of 2016? #HeyLaz

Against Me!, Shapeshift With Me.


JingleBard @SpaceBard
Favorite Blackhawk — current and former?

“Favorite” is a term I don’t like to use, because it implies some sort of bias or fandom. But I generally enjoy and appreciate talking with players who are always available, who don’t look at talking with a reporter as a chore, who treat an interview as a conversation rather than an interrogation, who don’t lean on clichés, and who are thoughtful and funny and willing to share the little details that color a story. Among the current roster, Dennis Rasmussen checks all those boxes. Among former players, Antti Raanta was the all-time greatest.

Kuba Pelka @kWUBWUBa
#RogueOne was my 2nd fav Star Wars movie EVER behind Empire. How does it rank for you? #HeyLaz

1. The Empire Strikes Back
2. A New Hope
3. Rogue One
4. Return of the Jedi
5. The Force Awakens
6. Revenge Of The Sith
7. The Phantom Menace
936. Attack of the Clones


Michael C. @OlPally86
#HeyLaz still sticking by your cup final prediction of Nashville/Tampa bay?

Dang. I was hoping nobody would remember that one.