1 December 2020

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Here’s Where The Top 5 NHL Free Agents Are Going

Chris O’Keefe

The 2019 summer is going to be a big one for the NHL. For starters the potential free agents could have a lasting impact on the league for the next few years. Young and old at all positions, there strategic landing spots could completely change franchises. However, it’s possible not all of them hit the market and even I don’t think they will. Although they are all great players they come from the same teams: The San Jose Sharks and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Both being powerful playoff teams, it’s pretty obvious they would want to retain their respective stars. For the sharks however they are the opposite of Columbus, they are older and have less cap. They would for sure have to pick one of their big names and let the other walk. But, for them it’s a hard choice between whoever they want. The loyal captain Joe Pavelski or a top Blue liner in Erik Karlsson? On the other hand Columbus made some big deadline moves including a three way trade between them, Nashville and Ottawa landing them Matt Duchene, an expiring UFA. Furthermore for Columbus they also have Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky to worry about. As I get into the individual players it is important to remember that each of the following six players each have speculation as to where they could land.

Erik Karlsson

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As the only defenseman on the list his value has already increased however, his recent history with injuries also plays a key part in his value. Karlsson has not played a full 82 games since the 2015-16 season with the Ottawa Senators. The two time Norris trophy winner has had a rough few years but he got away from the cancerous organization in Ottawa, and played for the sharks this past year. He managed to score 3 goals 42 assists totaling 45 points in 53 games for the sharks squad, nearly a point per game for a defenseman. We also need to keep in mind Joe Pavelski is also a pending UFA and captain of the team. Both talented but if it comes down to Pavelski staying and  here’s what going to happen for Karlsson. It’s plausible to say he could go back to Ottawa however I don’t see it happening because of how things ended, so I’m going to rule them out. Another potential landing spot is Buffalo and the New York Rangers. Both young rebuilding teams with great potential and lots of cap space. For Buffalo it should be a no brainer to give him a fat deal, with signing him they would have an unbelievable mentor for the young Calder Trophy candidate Rasmus Dahlin. If they were to secure the blue liner they could explore trading Rasmus Ristolainen to make some cap, something they’ve been looking at doing for a while. For the blue shirts he would also be a great fit. Although the Sabres are a great first choice for him if he doesn’t stay with San Jose, New York could be a great second choice for Karlsson. With a promising young prospect pool that is possibly one of the best in the NHL where he would fit great as a veteran piece. However I just don’t see it happening especially if Artemi Panarin signs with the Rangers so for me it’s going to be Karlsson to Buffalo.

Artemi Panarin

The best free agent forward this coming summer “The Bread Man” has proven himself to be one of the top forwards in the NHL. So it leaves the question, what team will the Russian be lacing up with next year? It comes down to lots of speculation and what could be a good fit. It’s Been rumored for some time that he wants to play in New York. Even as a New York native I do not think of Buffalo when I think of New York, We all think of the big city and who doesn’t want to experience it? So it possible for him to end up with the Rangers or Islanders. The Rangers as stated above are young and looking for vets to lead. But if I’m being honest the Islanders are a better fit. I could be seen as biased when I say this but I think being a die hard Islander fan helps me solidify my claim for this being a good choice for Panarin. The Islanders were the shock of the league this season, pegged for a bottom five finish nearly won their division and made it to the second round coming up short to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Islanders showed they are in dire need of a goal scorer, hence Panarin. Scoring an average of 30 goals per season in his short career he would make a huge impact especially playing with the young stud Mat Barzal. It’s a dream on the island but is slightly unlikely. I say this is unlikely due to the fact that it is only rumored about his desire for New York and because he is already in a good spot in Columbus who have the cap to keep him if they choose. He would continue as he did last season and the Jackets would likely lose Bobrovsky. However there is also another team for him to fit in with. I say this because he already did fit in, the Chicago Blackhawks. A former dynasty on the last legs of their older stars looking to pass the torch to the younger generation. They have a solid pool of young players including Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome. Panarin was with Chicago from 2015-2017 and was a great player for the team. He played alongside Blackhawks royalty in Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov. The three were a great line for the struggling team. Panarin returning would also bode well for the future of Chicago, he would likely sign to a long term deal and spend his prime there alongside the youngsters. In my opinion Panarin stays with Columbus but if he hits the market first choice the Chicago Blackhawks second the New York Islanders.

Sergei Bobrovsky

Sergei Bobrovsky is headed for free agency. He is NOT going to resign with the Blue Jackets especially if Columbus keeps Panarin. To be completely honest he will not resign. It recently came out that Bob’s high end apartment is up for sale. Furthermore the Blue Jackets have a top young goaltender in Joonas Korpisalo. Bobrovsky looking to make bank during the off-season as the only top goalie available. However, unlike forwards and defensemen goaltenders need to have the only starting spot which eliminates lots of teams from contention. Due to this it leaves the teams that need goaltenders looking at this top goaltender and getting their respective deals ready. I see three teams that have the best chance of landing Bobrovsky. Those teams being the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks. Going alphabetically starting with the flames signing Sergei would catapult them into contendership. As a team that was a heavy favorite going into the playoffs this year with a upsetting first round exit they are in need for a goaltender. Mike Smith is not gonna do it however he could still be a backup to Bobrovsky in Calgary. They have a star studded team with a hole he can fill and I think that would be his first choice. Breaking down the other two possibilities being Vancouver and Edmonton they are both similar young teams in need of a goalie but also other positions. Vancouver needs defense, they have the forwards but need the defense. Edmonton even with the best player in the league Connor McDavid at 20 years old. They could also be argued to need some blue line help. Bobrovsky has an easy decision here if the Flames offer a deal he should sign and be a contender with a star studded team for the rest of his hockey career.

Matt Duchene

The young centerman is looking to get paid over the off season. Duchene has been involved in drama with his former teams: Colorado Avalanche and the Ottawa Senators, including the video of him and other Ottawa teammates trashing their team. However, at this point this is all irrelevant to the teams trying to sign him, but it could still impact his choice of team. Duchene is a good player in his prime looking to find a team to spend his career with. Lucky for him teams believe he is worth the asking price and he is gaining interest from lots of teams looking for centers. The four teams linked to Duchene at the moment are the Montreal Canadiens, Arizona Coyotes, New York Islanders and Nashville Predators. These are all teams with the the cap to pay for Matt but it comes down to who he wants to play for in the end. Arizona isn’t an option to him and here’s why. This guy is known for hating bad teams, he and his teammates trashed the Senators and he demanded a trade from Colorado. I’m not saying Arizona isn’t a good team but they aren’t a win now team and that’s what Duchene is looking for. Of course there is the option of staying in Columbus but they already have Panarin and Bobrovsky higher on the priority list. Speaking of Panarin as I said earlier of the Islanders are a choice for Panarin. The isles can’t afford both with young players still to pay such as Mat Barzal but if they can’t get Panarin they have always shown interest in Duchene even since his time in Colorado. The islanders are still very much interested in him and they are another option. Nashville is the best of the current teams. He could be the piece that they are missing but I’m not sure he would get signed there. It’s a win first team like he wants to go to but he wouldn’t be able to be a star. Lastly we have the Canadiens. To be honest Montreal and the Islanders are his best choices. The Canadiens are young and close to being a good team with emerging stars Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin as well as veterans such as Shea Weber and Carey Price. But when it comes down to it this is a hard choice but I think the islanders are the better choice. They have always been interested so he will be welcome there. They are likely to lose Valtteri Filppula at center and Duchene could slide into the second line for the island. He would be seen as a star there and can get paid. Although he was born in the north the Canadiens are second to the Islanders in the Duchene sweepstakes.

Joe Pavelski

Last on the list but certainly not least Joe Pavelski is a outstanding hockey player for the Sharks. But hypothetically if he doesn’t return to San Jose here’s where Captain America is going: and that’s back to San Jose. There is no way he doesn’t get resigned. I said before that it’s between the loyalty and the younger defenseman for San Jose and they are taking Pavelski. They have one of the stronger defenses in the league even without Karlsson. Therefore the captain is staying with the team that drafted him and will continue to share the spotlight with other stars like Brent Burns and Logan Couture. Pavelski led the Sharks in goals this year with 38. His injury in the playoffs against Vegas it just showed how much he means to the sharks team and the whole organization. So for me it’s Joe Pavelski to the Sharks.

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