The Bread Man is going to make cake.
Artemi Panarin delivered the goods despite a circus swirling around him in Columbus, leading the Blue Jackets to the best season in franchise history.
Now, after fulfilling his contract, he’ll head to free agency as the No. 1 player on the market this summer. Panarin is poised to become the rare winger with an eight-figure salary in the cap era.
Former linemate Patrick Kane ($10.5 million) is the only player at that threshold now, but more will hit that mark – most prominent among them restricted free agent Mitch Marner.
Panarin edges out two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson for top spot on TSN’s Free Agent Frenzy board.
Imagine slotting Karlsson at No. 2 a calendar year ago.
In this case, it all comes down to health. What seemed like a slam dunk likelihood for Karlsson to re-sign with San Jose has become a wait-and-see scenario after Karlsson missed 29 games this season.
There is no questioning Karlsson’s talent. There is also no question that Karlsson will be paid handsomely. Players of his all-world ilk rarely make it to market.
But there have been more than a few questions about his skating – hampered by groin injuries this season – which hasn’t been as effortless as usual in these Stanley Cup playoffs.
Some moments, he looks like the Karlsson of old, flinging a 125-foot saucer stretch pass down the ice. Other times, he looks to be labouring, like he’s not going to be able to finish the game.
Will teams be willing to pay mega dollars at a maximum seven-year term (or eight years for San Jose)? Or will he cash in with a higher AAV on a shorter-term, lower-risk deal?
When Karlsson did play, he produced points at his usual high rate (0.85 per game), but three goals in 53 games represented the lowest goals-per-game rate (.06) of his career.