Will Kane try to persuade Panarin back to Blackhawks?
Before the Blackhawks played at Columbus last October, Artemi Panarin reached out to Patrick Kane and asked his friend if he'd like to get together.
Kane accepted, and as they were chatting, Panarin handed his former teammate a gift.
A shocked Kane looked down and saw his buddy had bought him a Rolex.
"It was a pretty special move by someone to do that," Kane said before the Hawks lost 5-2 to Panarin's Blue Jackets at the United Center on Saturday. "Throughout the season you always joke around like, 'Oh, you hit some bonuses. What are you are going to give me?' Stuff like that.
"But you never really expect something like that to come of it. … It definitely took me back for sure."
This story stayed behind the scenes for months, but Panarin let it slip recently, and Kane was then asked about it at the All-Star Game and again before the two clashed Saturday.
The eyes of the NHL have been fixed upon Columbus of late because everyone wants to know if the Blue Jackets plan on trading Panarin and/or goalie Sergei Bobrovsky before the Feb. 25 deadline. Both will be unrestricted free agents after the summer and the question is, does Columbus want to make a run at the Stanley Cup with them on board, or are they going to see what they can get in return for two of the best players in the league?
Panarin made waves last week when he dropped Dan Milstein as his agent and hired Paul Theofanous, who also represents Bobrovsky.
There has been plenty of speculation that Panarin could return to Chicago to reunite with Kane after the season ends. The two became fast friends during Panarin's first season with the Hawks.
"I found him to be a really great kid," Kane said. "Funny kid. Fun to be around. Fun to talk to. Fun to mess around with, talk hockey with, talk about different things with.
"He became a great friend when he was here."
Panarin, who scored a goal and had 2 assists in his team's victory Saturday, had some fun with his friend as warmups ended by slinging a puck at Kane as he left the ice. Kane turned around and stared Panarin down in mock anger, then retreated to the locker room.
"We have a pretty good relationship," Panarin said through an interpreter afterward. "I kind of miss him a lot. So we decided to play around a little bit."
It's difficult to say if Panarin, who leads Columbus with 24 goals and 43 assists, would agree to come to Chicago for less money than he could get elsewhere. A player of his ability -- one who has 300 points in 298 NHL games -- will likely command $10 million or more per season.
"It's one life, one chance for free agency and I want to test free agency," Panarin said last week.
Kane is happy Panarin is taking the opportunity to explore all options.
"It's his career. It's his life," Kane said.
The question is, does he want his career to continue with the Blackhawks? Kane, who was extremely upset when Panarin was dealt to Columbus in 2017, may be the Hawks' best recruiter if he chooses to take on that role.
It may have been a tough sell earlier in the season, but if the Hawks keep winning and qualify for the playoffs, who knows? Maybe Kane shoots his buddy a text that says something like, "Come back and help us win another Stanley Cup. Combine our firepower with and an up-and-coming defense, and we can be a force for years to come."
Any chance Kane does something similar to that?
"I don't know. We'll see what the situation comes to," Kane said. "Obviously we have a lot of season left here. I don't think you really find yourself thinking about it too much.
"Would it be great to play with him again? Yeah, obviously. But there's a lot for that to happen -- whether he stays in Columbus, goes free agency, goes to another team.
"It's his decision. (We'll) see what happens after the season."
Asked if Kane could have any influence on his decision, though, Panarin had an answer Blackhawks fan won't want to see: "No."