Another season has come and gone and some offseason milestones have already passed. The NHL Entry Draft always comes with the promise of fireworks but arrives as a bang snap. “Oh, a team traded their pick for two later picks? That’s definitely the trade we’ve all been waiting to see.” It certainly wouldn’t have been a Draft without the annual Flyers/Canadiens 7th Round Pick Swap.
The Draft always stirs up a frenzy only to be let down, but the feeding frenzy of Free Agency can usually fill the void. 2018 made a splash with #TavaresWatch and several other smaller signings. James van Riemsdyk made a trip back to Philadelphia, Paul Stastny went all-in with Vegas, and a feel-good story that worked out well for Patrick Maroon in St. Louis. The period ended with a young gun RFA remaining unsigned at the end of the summer in one William Nylander.
2019 is an even heavier hitting Free Agency than last year, with a handful of RFAs looking for a payday. Here are a few UFAs and their potential landing spots and contracts.
The Curious Case of Jarmo’s UFAs
The Columbus Blue Jackets have been the most talked about team prior to this Free Agency period, but not in the way they’d want to be talked about. GM Jarmo Kekelainen made the calculated decision to go all-in on this year’s playoff push. He brought in four UFA-to-be’s in Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid, and Keith Kinkaid. This group was added to UFAs Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, and RFAs Zach Werenski, Ryan Murray, and Joonas Korpisalo. Jarmo’s swing for the fences fell short of the warning track, losing in six games against Boston in the second round.
The Blue Jackets are at risk of losing all of their UFAs and it is beginning to look like reality. The top three Free Agents of 2019 are all former Blue Jackets: Bobrovsky, Panarin, and Duchene.
The two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender had a reputation around the league heading into the ‘18-’19 season. Regular season workhorse-elite-stud; postseason basketcase. He could consistently post fantastic numbers in the regular season, only to completely fall apart in the playoffs. This year changed that for him. He knew he had something to prove, and, by God, he did.
Bob has been linked with the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, and possibly the Rangers or Devils? A betting man would look heavily at the Florida Panthers. It’s reported that Bobrovsky is looking for a long-term, max-value contract. Max-value would have to look like an eight-digit annual salary. Whether he gets that remains to be seen; however, with Roberto Luongo deciding to hang up the pads, and the Panthers actively shopping James Reimer, July 1st should see Bob in South Florida. A Carey Price-esque contract is not out of the question, but it might not be surprising to see Bob become the highest paid goaltender in the NHL on July 1.
The Breadman is a very unique case as he is a 27-year old in the prime of his career and only having played four seasons in the NHL. He has very little mileage on him and his contract will reflect that. Rumors have surrounded the player since he declined to sign an extension with the Blue Jackets last summer. There have been claims that he wants to play in a bigger market, wants to live near a body of water, wants to go to New York City for his girlfriend’s modeling career (who hasn’t modeled in years), wants more money, he doesn’t get along with his coach, etc. All of the rumors have been pure conjecture and have not been uttered by him or his agents (currently Paul Theofanous, formerly Dan Milstein).
There does seem to be some truth to the first and second rumor as he has taken meetings with the Florida Panthers, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and his agent may have met with the Colorado Avalanche. The Rangers have reportedly offered him $11.25 million for seven years. Panarin is reportedly looking for something a little closer to the $12.5 million region. It seems unlikely he will receive that contract (Connor McDavid makes $12.5 million and will arguably become the greatest modern player to have graced the planet). Even amid the jumbotron graphics goof (see above), New York seems to be a frontrunner for the Breadman, should the usual suspects (Dreger, McKenzie, LeBrun, etc.) prove right. Whether #PanarinWatch ends in the Big Apple or South Beach, the likelihood of his arrival in the bloodbath that is the Atlantic division seems inevitable.
The country mus– er, star center, Matt Duchene, will be possibly pulling on a fourth sweater in his career. The Blue Jackets brought him in from Ottawa for two conditional first-round draft picks, and prospects Vitaly Abramov, and Jonathan Davidsson. While Duchene has not written off the Blue Jackets yet, he has held meetings with both the Nashville Predators and the Montreal Canadiens. All three teams make sense for the 28-year old and father of one. Columbus has been known as a city to raise a family in. Nashville has an unrivaled country music scene. Montreal is close to home (quick, what bedsheets did he have as a kid?!).
Duchene is expecting to command a contract worth $9-$10 million a year for a max term. The likely landing spot for the elite center would be Nashville. GM David Poile just moved PK Subban and his $9 million cap hit to supposedly clear cap space to sign Duchene. Montreal seems to be less likely with their system currently flush with center talent, but a case can always be made for bringing in a legitimate offensive weapon.
Pavs lands at number four on the free agent free-for-all. The 34-year old San Jose Shark royalty coming off of a 38 goal season is another unique case. The narrative for forwards in their mid-30’s is often a short term deal as they typically and not-so-gracefully decline. Pavs was having a great year until his playoff injury blows might make a few teams balk at longer-term deals. A solid comparable would be Corey Perry. He was just bought out by the Anaheim Ducks and is the same age as Pavelski. The aging curve is real and unpredictable.
The number of teams that have contacted Pavelski’s camp has reportedly reached the double digits. A bidding war may not be out of the question for the Sharks captain. He will likely command at least a three-four year deal worth $6-7 million AAV. While a reunion with the Sharks is still possible, it is likely that Pavelski has worn black and teal for the last time.
A few teams that make sense are Dallas, Colorado, and Tampa. All three teams have the firepower to make a run in the playoffs, but Colorado has nearly $40 million in cap space. Dallas has a little space after Jason Spezza’s $7.5 million came off the books. Tampa would give Pavelski the greatest chance at a Cup but they only have $10.6 million in cap space and one Brayden Point to sign. This is without mentioning Anthony Cirelli, Mathieu Joseph, Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak, and Andrei Vasilevskiy ALL needing new deals next summer.
Knowing the NHL, Free Agency will be built up to be “the most dramatic” in years, but one thing is for sure: players will sign for more money than they are worth, Armchair-GMs will undervalue everyone, and nothing will beat the twenty-three minutes on June 29, 2016.
Feature Image Credit: (Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)