Artemi Panarin Joel Quenneville
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Artemi Panarin may be the New York Rangers top target this summer, but if they don’t sign him, all will not be lost for the Blueshirts.

Frank Curto

Since the trade deadline expired last February, all the talk for the New York Rangers hierarchy and fan base has been the possibility of signing free-agent-to-be Artemi Panarin.

The Columbus Blue Jackets let the NHL world know he would be an unrestricted free agent when they decided not to trade him at the deadline, and instead, kept him with Stanley Cup Final dreams dancing in their heads.

Of course, that goal fell well short of completion when they were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.

Now, the top free agent available come July 1 is looking for a new place to hang his skates. As rumors swirl about where he might land, two locations have gone to the top of the list. Those would be Florida and New York.

The Panthers, Rangers and, wait … the other New York team, yes, the Islanders have been mentioned as the top three landing spots for the Russian phenom. Unfortunately for both New York teams, Florida seems to have the edge. The Florida Panthers might snag Panarin away as they have two things New York doesn’t.

  1.  Head coach Joe Quinville, whom Panarin respects and played under in his first two seasons as a professional from 2015-2017.
  2. Taxes: Florida doesn’t have any state income tax. An $11 million annual salary is worth a lot more in the Sunshine State than it does in the Empire State. It’s a fact that New York cannot alter unless the Rangers or Islanders are willing to compensate the tax loss in their salary offerings, which is highly unlikely.

Some will argue Panarin will show his true colors if he chooses the Panthers over the Rangers. The color green comes to mind as he will prove the money is more important than the opportunity to get back to the playoffs and get another chance to win a Stanley Cup.

The Panthers have only made the postseason twice since the 2011-2012 season and goaltender Roberto Luongo recently announced his retirement. The team is in the midst of a rebuild themselves.

If Panarin decides the sun and fun of Florida are meant to be, fear not Rangers fans, the team is still in great shape heading into next season.

Jeff Gorton Artemi Panarin
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Potential Free agents to sign

First, let’s get one thing very clear: Artemi Panarin is a special NHL sniper and few can match his skills. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any players good enough to pursue. The free agents available beginning July 1 all have something the Blueshirts need.

Whether it’s scoring, passing or team chemistry, the team will need some offensive help to get back into the playoff hunt. Some possibilities could be:

  • Matt Duchene (Columbus, 28 years old)
  • Anders Lee (Islanders, 28)
  • Gustav Nyquist (San Jose, 29)
  • Mats Zuccarello (Dallas, 31): OK, he is a long shot. The conditions by which he was traded from the Rangers to Dallas were poor at best. A reunion seems very unlikely, but it has happened before, so until he signs elsewhere, he should be considered a possibility.
  • Joe Pavelski (San Jose, 34): Pavelski scored 38 goals last season, the most of any unrestricted free agent available this season including Panarin. Did he overachieve? Maybe, but he knows how to score big goals in big games, recording 355 for his career.

Staying In House

The Rangers could also save themselves some aggravation by taking care of some “in-house” situations.

Chris Kreider, 28, will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. The team has been tight-lipped on whether to give him a contract extension, a rumor even surfaced that he was offered to the Colorado Avalanche for their 16th overall pick in this year’s draft. The deal never happened, which may be a blessing in disguise.

Kreider has only played for the Rangers in his career, but his biggest downfall is of his own doing. Kreider tends to have lapses in his play that covers many games at a time. Amazingly, he becomes invisible over stretches of the season.

New York Rangers

Other times, the Kreider the team desperately needs consistently explodes, leaving the coaching staff to wonder why he cannot play at that level game in and game out.

Though a hometown discount is unlikely, considering the contract former Ranger Kevin Hayes recently signed with the Philadelphia Flyers, keeping him could be more beneficial than trading him, especially of Panarin isn’t Broadway bound.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brendan Lemieux, Jacob Trouba and Anthony DeAngelo are restricted free agents. Their contract statuses will remain unclear until the Panarin situation is settled.

Let’s not forget the youth of this club that is anticipated to add more scoring this season, Vitali Kravtsov and Kaapo Kakko, especially. The two rookies are both strong possibilities to make the opening night lineup and their scoring prowess will be needed to accommodate the team’s shortcomings if the top free agent signs elsewhere.

Panarin is plan A, but the Rangers most definitely need a plan B and C should things fall by the wayside. This team would be stronger with Panarin, but what team wouldn’t be?

General manager Jeff Gorton has done a great job of getting the team to this point. He now has John Davidson by his side to help finalize the summer planning and get the team to come out of the gate strong in October.

The Rangers will be just fine regardless off how free agency plays out. Gorton has made every right move so far. It’s time to keep the faith in him the rest of the way.

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