Sometimes it’s enjoyable to boil your favorite things down to their most basic components, channeling what made you fall in love with that hobby in the first place.
Such thinking probably explains part of the reason why arcade-style sports games can be so fun. Instead of aiming to be a realistic simulation of 5-on-5 basketball, NBA Jam pitted the two best players (licensing pending) against the two best from other teams, throwing in a fiery net or three for good measure.
Picturing hockey simplified to posters for boxing or pro wrestling main events can be fun, particularly as we enter September, when things can sometimes get bogged down in granular details.
Don’t get me wrong, training camp battles are absolutely worth discussing. PTOs can sometimes work out so well that you wonder why the players involved didn’t instead command a bidding war on the free agent market. These are worthy endeavors, particularly for us NHL obsessives.
Still, seeing John Tavares go to the Toronto Maple Leafs brings back that childlike “Pokemon” urge to watch superpowers form. With that in mind, it’s tough not to be tantalized by the mere mention of Artemi Panarin someday joining the Dallas Stars.
Is such a situation all that realistic? It’s difficult to say, and foolish to predict. This thought did come to mind, however, after the Athletic’s Sean Shapiro and Aaron Portzline reported that the Stars are on Panarin’s “short list” of destinations.
Again, it’s crucial to remember that a trade is by no means imminent. Shapiro noted as much, also bringing the discussion back to the belief that Panarin’s greatest preference might be to sign in New York.
No, this is mere daydreaming about how fun it would be, unless you’re a fan of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Consider the following:
1. This core has already shown it can be very, very exciting.
If you were to give one NHL team the most credit for the league’s hope-instilling push toward a faster, more skilled style, you’d probably point to the Mike Sullivan-era Pittsburgh Penguins.
Love them or hate them, the Penguins opened the door for teams to take something closer to a “Let’s out-score our problems” approach, as Pittsburgh won back-to-back Stanley Cups even as they didn’t necessarily play lockdown defense. Winning that second consecutive title with Kris Letang on the shelf had to send a message to at least some teams that, hey, maybe it’s smarter just to load up on offense and hope you can just overwhelm your more conservative-style opponents.
The success of the Penguins might obscure other contributors to The Cause of Watchable Hockey, and the 2015-16 Dallas Stars were a shooting star across a sometimes-bleak sky during their all-too-short run as the must-watch team of the NHL.
That version of the Stars fell in the second round, yet they also generated 109 standings points, topped all teams in scoring, allowed enough goals to keep things exciting, and generally made the argument that a high-octane team could succeed. The Penguins took that to the next level.
Things went off the rails for Lindy Ruff after that, to the point that management over-corrected by putting their system in reverse by rolling the dice on a second tour for Ken Hitchcock. Their roster and his coaching philosophy mixed as well as oil and water, so there’s already hope that this team will be way more fun under incoming head coach Jim Montgomery.
2. No longer “wait for Benn-Seguin?”
For better or worse from a W-L standpoint, Hitchcock decided to load up the Stars’ high-end talent by frequently putting Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alex Radulov on the same line.
Watching those three befuddle opponents could be a lot of fun, but with all due respect to quality players like Radek Faksa, it also made watching a Stars game sometimes feel like a chore when the big guns were on the bench.
Adding a dynamic talent like Artemi Panarin wouldn’t just make the Stars better in just about any instance, even if it meant landing him in a trade. It would also make them way, way more fun to watch.
There’s a scenario where the Stars could have one of Benn, Seguin, Panarin, and Radulov on the ice at all times. That’s a grab-your-popcorn scenario.
Seriously, imagine adding this skill to an already-impressive top-end.
3. Making it work would be nerdy fun, too.
One prevailing thought – yes, it’s OK if you’ve been screaming this at your screen during this entire post – is “Yeah, but how will they pull it off?”
That’s a pertinent question whether the Stars would, hypothetically, land Panarin either in a trade or by convincing him to come to Dallas in free agency. Such thoughts undeniably force this into daydream territory, rather than being a reality the Stars should realistically pencil in.
(The Rangers? They might want to put together a Trapper Keeper full of Panarin plans. Just saying.)
Even so, it would be entertaining for us “franchise mode” types to see if GM Jim Nill could pull off this balancing act.
After all, Panarin isn’t the only star forward who needs a new contract – one way/place or another – after the 2018-19 season. The Stars’ star forward Seguin needs one too, and that situation sure seems murky at this moment. Imagine the juggling act that would be required if the Stars found a way to get Panarin and Seguin on the books from 2019-20 and on; the best-case scenario would probably call for the pairing to cost $20M, as much as management would instead love for Jamie Benn’s $9.5M per year to remain the peak price.
Benn – Seguin – Panarin – Klingberg would be right up there with the cream of the crop for teams like Toronto and Tampa Bay, but you might only be able to afford old cartridges of “NBA Jam” after paying all of those guys. That’s a challenge, but it would be one to watch for team-building dweebs such as myself.
To reiterate, Panarin to Stars isn’t reported to be imminent.
For all we know, the Blue Jackets might find a way to pull a rabbit out of a hat and convince Panarin to stay in Columbus, after all. It’s also plausible that, while Dallas is a big market, it might not be where Panarin really wants to play.
Still, the Stars have their advantages. There are the tax breaks that would allow Panarin to retain more of the bread from a new deal, the weather’s warmer than some other locales, so that Tampa Bay tanning tampering wouldn’t win out as much.
The most fun advantage is that Panarin would play with other star players if he somehow ended up with the Stars. Honestly, it would be a crime if that happened and Dallas found a way to be not-so-fun to watch.
Such events will probably only happen in alternate realities and daydreams, but they’re fun scenarios to picture, realistic or not.
What are some other fun Panarin possibilities that come to your mind? And, yes, it’s OK for Blue Jackets fans to blurt out “Just stay.”
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.