It’s been a busy time of year for New York Rangers fans. No sooner did the Kaapo Kakko train pull into Broadway and open the doors did we realize we’re still waiting for another train to exit from: The Artemi Panarin train.
This train has been a much longer ride, one that dates back to last summer when it was revealed Panarin wasn’t planning on signing an extension, and generated enough hype that at The Forum Mike, Greg, Ryan, and myself discussed the pros and cons of trading for him to ensure the Rangers could get him.
We talked about Panarin all year, made jokes about him when he scored against the Rangers at home, fawned over him through the end of the year and in the playoffs, and have drooled over the possibilities of adding a legit NHL-level superstar to the fold since before we knew Kakko was Broadway bound. We argued about life if Panarin didn’t come to New York, and what life would be like if he did.
The past few days — during the window to speak to prospective free agents before the floodgates open on 7/1 — have seen Panarin rumors jump up tenfold; which is to be expected. We’ve gone from a Czech NHL reporter who did nail three different trades before they happened at this year’s deadline report the Rangers and Panarin were closing in on a deal:
BIG NEWS: NY Rangers are closing on deal with Artemi Panarin! Can't be signed until July 1, actually.— Adam Papoušek (@AdamPapousek) June 27, 2019
To Darren Dreger reporting speculation Panarin might want north of $12-million, and that at those financial figures he might price himself out of New York.
Dreger on Panarin: "There's some that believe he's with the New Jersey Devils or Lou Lamoriello and the Islanders today...There's some speculation Panarin wants a bit more than $12M annually, that might push the New York Rangers out of the game."— NHL Prospects Watcher (@Prospects_Watch) June 27, 2019
This is in addition to all the speculation that Florida — now armed with Coach Quenneville and fresh cap space from Roberto Luongo’s early retirement — will pull off the first Free Agency Double Lottery since the Minnesota Wild brought in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in 2012.
The situation is fluid, especially as more information comes to light.
Forget the money for a moment. Panarin is another franchise-changing talent who is in the prime of his career — turning 28 in late October. There is a case to be made that him not joining the NHL until he was 24, and playing multiple years in the less physical KHL, leaves far more tread on the tires than a normal 28 year old. He’s shown to be pretty durable thus far too, having appeared in 322 of a possible 328 games since joining the NHL.
Even removing that, the man put up 169 points in 160 games for Columbus, and added 11 points in 10 playoff games this year. In 322 NHL games he’s put up 320 points, and if anything has gotten better as time has gone on. There’s little reason to assume he’s in any form of steep decline, or that the Rangers are grabbing another over-the-hill veteran who won’t live up to expectations.
Especially with the plethora of offensive weapons the team is going to boast next season. Imagine Panarin with Kakko, or Mika Zibanejad, or Pavel Buchnevich, Vitali Kravtsov, or ... anyone, really.
Jeff Gorton cannot “forget” about the money, though. If anything it’s the most critical aspect of this entire situation. There’s legitimate debate over whether or not Chris Kreider — who was reportedly thisclose to being moved to Colorado at the draft — is worth the long-term contract instead of Panarin. Panarin impacts the play on the ice more in both directions, but not nearly at enough of an increased level to fully justify a contract that’s $5-million a year more expensive. That said, the fear with Kreider is about the back end of that contract when the Rangers will be in prime contention mode, and the way older players who rely on their first step and speed decline so rapidly.
Is Panarin worth it at $12-million? Do the Rangers look at themselves, agree that next year might be rocky with all the youth and bank on that sweet, sweet 2020 1st round draft slot in what’s expected to be one of the most loaded drafts in history? (This doesn’t even include the evaporating possibility Mats Zuccarello stays in Dallas and gives the Rangers a second such selection.)
Then again, the Rangers are loaded with young talent right now. Here’s the respective ages of all the players who are expected to be, or would be in discussion to be, on the opening night roster come October 3rd: Kaapo Kakko (18), Filip Chytil (19), Vitali Kravtsov (19), Lias Andersson (20), Adam Fox (21), Brendan Lemieux (23), Igor Shesterkin (23), Alexandar Georgiev (23), and Tony DeAngelo (23). That doesn’t even include Pavel Buchnevich (24), Brady Skjei (25), and Jacob Trouba who just turned 25 in February. Zibanejad, arguably the team’s best player, is 26; so is there a better time to add a guy like Panarin who the younger wingers can learn from? A guy who can take the pressure off players like Kravtsov and Kakko and let them avoid the withering spotlight of being a young gun with high expectations in New York?
The Rangers aren’t going to make a big splash this summer outside of Panarin regardless. The team is pretty open about being in the one or two-year market for free agents, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see the team bring in a few veteran character guys who help lead the flock — although hopefully the team doesn’t try to go down the Ryan Reaves road again.
What I’m trying to say is if the Rangers decide $12-million is too steep and they don’t want to dive into the pool for Panarin, I’m fine with it. I know he changes everything, and I know that I’ve planned on dying on the hill of “get star power however you can,” but a Kreider extension is a fine consolation prize (with more risk) and still keeps the Rangers in the same time frame they’re in right now. It might set them back a year, but that 2020 pick — especially if it’s a lottery pick — would give them ten steps forward.
There’s no wrong way to handle this so long as the only options are a long term deal for Panarin with short-term small moves, or just short-term small moves.
And that seems to be exactly where the Rangers are going.