Kalman: Bruins should say P U to current price for Panarin

Matt Kalman
January 30, 2019 - 2:37 pm

Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen tried to lighten the mood Tuesday when addressing the latest edict from forward Artemi Panarin’s agent Dan Milstein.

Milstein informed the Blue Jackets, and the world via Twitter, that the would-be unrestricted free agent won’t be negotiating and extension with Columbus while the seasons is on.

“My phone’s been ringing off the hook today, for various different reasons,” Kekalainen told the assembled media in Ohio’s state capitol. “I can only answer one at a time. I’m usually pretty good at returning phone calls.”

Unless the price for Panarin’s services comes way down, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney should avoid being one of Kekalainen’s numerous callers.

TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie was on TSN 1050 radio Wednesday and set the price as at least a first-round pick and a top prospect, plus possibly more for Panarin. Despite the Bruins’ obvious need for offense from someone other than Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, the Bruins should avoid going all-in to get Panarin. The same goes for most other high-end rentals beyond Panarin.

Let’s start, though, with the Russian. There’s no doubt the 27-year-old has the skill set that should make every NHL GM salivate. Even during this season when he’s supposed to be distracted by the contract talks and his team has been up and down (third place in the Metropolitan Division as of Wednesday morning), he’s produced 55 points (19 goals, 36 assists) in 47 games.

But the Bruins aren’t in a position to meet the Blue Jackets’ current asking price. Trading their first-round pick for a second straight season would be detrimental to keeping their run of success going three or four years down the road. And as far as a “really good prospect,” as McKenzie put it, think in terms of Urho Vaakanainen or Jack Studnicka, assuming you don’t consider second-line stalwart Jake DeBrusk a prospect anymore. The Bruins can’t afford to let go of prospects that not only are their best in terms of talent, but are their most valuable in terms of them being able to play on entry-level deals for a couple years. Many of the Bruins’ best young players are coming up on the end of their entry-level contracts and will be due raises. There’s no telling how Sweeney’s going to be able to keep the band together or if he’s going to have to ship a guy or two out. The next wave of entry-level players will be crucial.

And that’s why when you look at the rental market for forwards beyond Panarin – a list that includes Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds, Ottawa’s Mark Stone and Matt Duchene, the New York Rangers’ Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello and Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg – you have to wonder if it’d be best if Sweeney sit out this year’s deadline.

Last season it was worth putting together a package that included a first-round pick and prospect Ryan Lindgren to get Rick Nash from the Rangers. The Bruins were in the conversation with Tampa Bay and Toronto among Stanley Cup title contenders from the Atlantic Division. Boston’s rookies were meeting expectations and a guy like Riley Nash was having a career year. This year the Lightning and Maple Leafs have improved and the Eastern Conference as a whole is going to be tougher to navigate. DeBrusk is the only second-year Bruins player who’s built off his strong rookie campaign, with Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy all going through varying degrees of the sophomore slump. There’s no reason, though, to give up on any of these players who are all in their early 20s.

Not only would a Panarin or similar player come at a steep price, but adding someone of the Blue Jackets forward’s capabilities might not make that much of a difference for the Bruins this season.

Plus the Bruins probably won’t get more than a couple months out of their acquisition. After last season they wanted to re-sign Rick Nash, who wound up retiring, but with Zdeno Chara due another contract, and McAvoy and Brandon Carlo entering the newly lucrative world of a second contracts, the Bruins probably won’t have salary-cap space to keep someone they acquire via trade without a major overhaul of the roster. They’re currently expected to have about $20 million in cap space if the cap ceiling increases to about $82 million. An $8 million or more expenditure on a player like Panarin would not leave much for the players the Bruins are planning to build around for the next decade.

Now prices could drop. In Panarin’s case, Kekalainen could get desperate to avoid losing a high-end talent for nothing, especially if the Blue Jackets’ play tails off. But, as McKenzie also noted, Columbus could keep Panarin as an “own rental,” figuring that this might be that market’s best shot to win something before entering another rebuild or reboot.

History shows that often a percentage of the sellers go the “own rental” route and the rest are able to keep their price high because the market shrinks. That might leave the Bruins hoping Heinen, Peter Cehlarik, Trent Frederic, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and/or Ryan Donato can get the job done. Even if things don’t work out for this season, those players and several other prospects (not to mention draft picks that haven’t been used yet) will be crucial for the Bruins down the road.

Since taking over as GM, Sweeney has always taken a big-picture approach (with the one diversion when the Nash trade and the playoff landscape were too appealing to pass up last season). Nothing Sweeney has seen this season with his team or those around the Bruins in the standings should distract him this year. The odds are too long that this is the season the Bruins return to the ultimate glory, so he should avoid any rental trade that would cause Boston’s future even the slightest bit of pain.

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