Report: KHL star Panarin close to signing with Chicago

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With the unrestricted free agent market expected to be thin, Chicago is doing a great job of recruiting talent outside of the NHL. The Blackhawks lured one of this year’s top college free agents in forward Kyle Baun and now they are close to inking KHL star forward Artem Panarin, according to CBC’s Elliotte Friedman.

Panarin, 23, had 26 goals and 62 points in 54 regular season contests with St. Petersburg in 2014-15. To give those numbers some context, his teammate Ilya Kovalchuk had 55 points in 54 games. Panarin was great in the playoffs too, adding another five goals and 20 points in 20 games.

There has reportedly been a number of teams interested in his services, including Calgary, Montreal, and Toronto, but he felt the Blackhawks would be his best fit. It’s possible that’s a reflection of what he sees this team doing over the summer.

The Blackhawks will need to get creative from a cap perspective because Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will come with $10.5 million annual hits starting with the 2015-16 campaign. That’s a big chunk of their payroll tied to two players, especially with the ceiling now projected to be about $71.5 million, down from the $73 million estimate in December.

There’s lots of speculation that Chicago will be looking to lessen that burden by trading Patrick Sharp, who comes with a $5.9 million cap hit. Bryan Bickell ($4 million cap hit) might be dealt too while others like defenseman Johnny Oduya ($3.4 million) might simply be allowed to walk as unrestricted free agents.