Why Chicago Blackhawks superstar Artemi Panarin switched agents

The inside story on how Artemi Panarin did the unexpected, finding common ground with Blackhawks on a deal, and an agent who speaks his language

 
 
Updated 1/7/2017 7:23 PM
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  • Artemi Panarin, a 25-year-old Russian superstar, says he hopes to play his entire career with the Chicago Blackhawks.

    Artemi Panarin, a 25-year-old Russian superstar, says he hopes to play his entire career with the Chicago Blackhawks. Associated Press

  • Chicago Blackhawks winger Artemi Panarin has a blistering slap shot to go with his incredible speed.

    Chicago Blackhawks winger Artemi Panarin has a blistering slap shot to go with his incredible speed. Associated Press

  • Blackhawks' Artemi Panarin, left, skates with the puck as he is defended by St. Louis Blues' Jay Bouwmeester during the first period of the NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

    Blackhawks' Artemi Panarin, left, skates with the puck as he is defended by St. Louis Blues' Jay Bouwmeester during the first period of the NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Associated Press

  • Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin.

    Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin. John Starks | Staff Photographer/file

Coming to America and speaking little English can put a significant burden on any pro athlete.

From going out to eat to asking for directions, from banter in the locker room to communicating on the ice, it's a huge work in progress and the stress adds up.

Now imagine trying to negotiate a new contract with an agent and general manager who don't speak your language.

That was the situation facing Artemi Panarin for the better part of six months as the Blackhawks forward tried to find common ground with Stan Bowman so he could stay in Chicago.

A two-year, $12 million extension for the Russian superstar was agreed to on Dec. 28, but not before an interesting turn of events.

Tom Lynn was Panarin's agent when he came over from the KHL in 2015, but a month ago Panarin decided he wanted a representative he could talk to without going through a translator.

Enter Dan Milstein, a 41-year-old native of Ukraine who also represents former Red Wings great Pavel Datsyuk.

"I felt more comfortable getting somebody who speaks Russian," Panarin said through a translator. "I didn't really know (Milstein). Our mutual friends got us in contact together."

The Detroit-based Milstein, who has a fairly amazing back story that includes a grandmother and grandfather being killed less than one year after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, got a call from Panarin in December and came to Chicago to have lunch with last year's rookie of the year.

What was going to be perhaps a one-hour meeting stretched to two hours … then three … then three-and-a-half.

"Artemi's one of those guys who just wants to move forward," said Milstein, who has written three books and is about to release a fourth. "The name of my upcoming book is called, 'Rule #1, Don't be #2.'

"And when I said that to Artemi, he goes, 'I've got goose bumps because that's my life. I always want to be number one. I want to be the number one hockey player right now. I want to be the best. I want to continue learning and excelling, and when I'm done playing I want to be in business and achieve accolades and I want to be number one in the business world as well.' "

The next day, Panarin called Milstein -- who has been a certified agent since May 2015 -- and said he wanted him to be his agent once the bridge deal was completed with the Blackhawks.

"We had a deep conversation and I was satisfied with what I heard," Panarin said.

Things could have gotten sticky at that point as Lynn -- who also represents Panarin's good friend, Viktor Tikhonov -- had been working on getting Panarin a contract extension since last off-season.

"He met Tom Lynn for lunch -- he didn't want to do it by phone or anything," Milstein said. "Through a translator, they had a conversation with Tom. And then Tom was a total gentleman. (We) got on the phone the very next day; he called me and we basically agreed to work together to secure this contract for Artemi."

At that point, Milstein said he then had "three or four conversations" with Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and things moved "fairly quick" after that. Panarin, though, made it clear that the two-year deal was mostly done when Milstein came on board.

While Panarin had a number in mind that Milstein believed was undervaluing his abilities, Panarin was adamant about wanting to stay in Chicago and play for a team he believes can win the Stanley Cup.

Panarin told Milstein: "Chicago's pressed against the salary cap. I don't want to be that guy. I want to play on a winning team.

"Give them the flexibility so they can retain the guys or sign the new guys because it's not about me. I'm young. I'm going to make plenty of money in my future.

"I just want to make sure the team overall is going to be in good shape."

Before the Hawks played Buffalo on Thursday, Panarin acknowledged that the uncertainty of next season was weighing on his mind at times.

"I didn't really play worse because of that, but still it feels better to have (it done)," Panarin said.

Now that he's locked up through the end of the 2018-19 season, Panarin can focus on what's important: trying to become the best player in the world. If that happens, who knows what he could be worth in two-and-half years when he hits unrestricted free agency.

Around that time, Milstein will be tasked with working with the Hawks to iron out a deal that works for all parties. One industry source suggested the task may be difficult for an agent with so little experience.

But that's an issue for another day. When all is said and done, Panarin hopes his NHL career will have started and ended with the Chicago Blackhawks.

"We're not going to wait until July 1 of 2019 to start negotiating or testing the markets," Milstein said. "Chicago is a great town and he hopes to have his entire career in the city, and hopefully win the Stanley Cup in the short term and someday seeing his jersey up in the rafters."

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