NHL Rumors: Latest Buzz on Artemi Panarin, Blackhawks Trade Plans and More

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IIJuly 17, 2018

Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Artemi Panarin in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Anaheim Ducks in Anaheim, Calif., Friday, March 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)
Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

The NHL rumor mill has cycled down for the summer, it seems. As the draft approached, it felt like we were on the precipice of one of the busiest runs in recent memory.

John Tavares was set to alter the course of recent history. Erik Karlsson seemed as good as traded. Max Pacioretty appeared destined for a new zip code and, at the last moment, we learned that Artemi Panarin had decided he wasn't interested in re-signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets "at this time."

Tavares obviously bolted for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but none of the other big moves happened, and hockey fans have been waiting for them to unfold ever since.

Yes, we're in the doldrums of summer, but that lack of activity earlier in the offseason means that there are a handful of moves yet to be made. Who knows? Karlsson could be traded on some sweltering day in mid-August while the rest of us are at work or trying to stay out of the heat.


Status Quo for Artemi Panarin and Columbus

Supporters of the Columbus Blue Jackets received a serious (and unforeseen) gut punch in mid-June when Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported that Panarin didn't have an interest in re-signing with the team at this juncture.

Comments that his agent, Daniel Milstein, made to Aaron Portzline of The Athletic were even more troubling than Friedman's initial report. This is what you call a money quote:

"We're not holding out for more money, because if I called [general manager] Jarmo [Kekalainen] right now, he'd probably drive up to my house and we'd put a deal together. [Panarin's] biggest thing is...he loves the team, he loves the coach. It's not the team or the way they treat him. It's about, does he want to spend the next eight years in Columbus? That's the only thing at stake right now."

Yowza. Columbus isn't that bad, Artemi. Have you ever been to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum? It's rad.

Kekalainen recently met with the forward in Europe, and fans hoping that this meeting would generate some kind of forward progress were once again left disappointed.

Igor Eronko @IgorEronko

Meeting between Jarmo Kekalainen and Panarin took 45 minutes. Told that Artemi is still not ready to sign a long term deal #CBJ

This isn't one of those no-news-is-good-news situations. This is a star playerdemonstrably one of the best forwards in professional hockey—telling a team that he likes them but not where they are located. That's impossible to fix or do anything about (unless Kekalainen has Magneto on the payroll), and the situation has led pundits such Tom Reed of The Athletic to believe that trading Panarin sooner rather than later would be the best route forward.

That's a tough sell for a team that is battling perception issues as it is, though. It's an even tougher sell to the fans in Columbus who bought Panarin sweaters last season as he emerged as the most outstanding and electric player in franchise history.

Plus, as Adam Gretz pointed out for NBCSports.com earlier in July, the odds of trading Panarin and getting similar value in return are virtually nonexistent: "...it is nearly impossible to trade a player like Panarin and end up coming out ahead when it comes to value (just ask the Chicago Blackhawks)."

With the Karlsson situation grinding to a halt recently, Panarin Watch has become the most intriguing part of this offseason. Especially when you know that the Blue Jackets just watched the New York Islanders lose their heart and soul for zilch, zip and nada on July 1.


Chicago Blackhawks Diving Headfirst into Cap-Space Pool

They had to give up Vinnie Hinostroza to get the Arizona Coyotes to take on Marian Hossa's dead-money contract, but the Chicago Blackhawks now have plenty of cap space to play with in the coming weeks. It was a nine-player deal when the dust settled, but Chicago general manager Stan Bowman continues to find ways to convince other organizations to help break them out of cap hell.

Despite having four roster spots to fill, it doesn't sound like the Blackhawks are trying to make incremental upgrades to a team that last season missed the playoffs for the first time since Transformers movies didn't have vague and meaningless phrases tacked on to them for branding purposes.

David Pagnotta @TheFourthPeriod

Told the Blackhawks have been in talks with Montreal about Pacioretty and Carolina about Skinner. Chicago has approx $8.5M in cap space after today's trade. Possible these talks pick up steam now.

Pacioretty slotting in beside Jonathan Toews or Jeff Skinner flying down the ice alongside Patrick Kane are fun things to visualize, but neither of those players would come cheap. One has to wonder whether Bowman has the chips to seriously engage in chatter concerning Skinner or Pacioretty.

Prospect whiz Peter Harling ranked Chicago's farm system 16th, noting that "the pipeline is a little thin" after a near-decade of championship contention. And after missing the postseason in 2017-18, Chicago might not be interested in moving its first-round pick for 2019.

Regardless, Scott Powers of The Athletic reported after the Hossa trade that the Carolina Hurricanes' asking price for Skinner is Nick Schmaltz and a first-round selection. It will be interesting to see whether Bowman bites on something along those lines or sticks with the 22-year-old Schmaltz as his No. 2 center.


Will Jason Zucker Remain with the Minnesota Wild?

Over the past three seasons, only Eric Staal has scored more goals for the Minnesota Wild than Jason Zucker. He set various career highs in 2017-18, scoring 33 times, keeping pace with the likes of Auston Matthews, Claude Giroux and Phil Kessel and rocketing past the 60-point barrier for the first time in the NHL.

Zucker has evolved into a dependable top-six forward for the Wild during regular-season play. The knock on him, however, is that he's now appeared in 31 playoff games and has scored just four times. Since 2015, he has lit the lamp once for Minnesota during the postseason.

As such, his future with the Wild is up in the air to some degree. When new GM Paul Fenton took over for Chuck Fletcher, who had been at the helm for almost nine years, it was evident that changes needed to be made to the Wild's roster.

Star Tribune Sports @StribSports

Jason Zucker responds to #mnwild trade talk. "I want to be here." @sarah__mclellan writes: https://t.co/NghnvfjrO3 https://t.co/HLjk4bvPXo

Sure, they continue to make the playoffs, but they typically manage to do no damage once there. They have never gone beyond the second round and haven't won a division title since signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts back in 2012.

With Zucker a sort of figurehead for Minnesota's good-during-the-regular-season-but-bad-during-the-playoffs problem, it's no wonder the restricted free agent hasn't yet settled on a new deal with the Wild. As Dane Mizutani of TwinCities.com recently noted, Zucker has had his name "floated around regularly" since Fenton was named GM in late April.

Scoring goals is a hard thing to do, and the 26-year-old seems to have a knack for it. Yet his days in Minnesota may be numbered if the right deal comes along for Fenton.