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NHL Free Agency Reports: Artemi Panarin to speak with Islanders, Rangers; Anders Lee to speak with Blackhawks

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The flirtation and “listening” period is underway.

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NHL: New York Islanders at Columbus Blue Jackets
“We need to form an alliance...”
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL free agent “listening” window that began Sunday is off to a quiet start, but reporters are starting to share little bits about which teams are expected to gain an audience with high-profile unrestrictred free agents.

Among them involving the New York Islanders: Captain Anders Lee is expected to speak to the Chicago Blackhawks, among others, while top target Artemi Panarin is expected to offer an audience to the New York Islanders and Rangers when he swings through town.

That’s based on tweets from David Pagnotta of the Fourth Period, though the Panarin visits have been long anticipated since Panarin made it clear to the Columbus Blue Jackets that he would test the market. Panarin has long been connected to Florida, where his former Blackhawk bosses Dale Tallon and Joel Quenneville are now in charge and where he and Sergei Bobrovsky have been positioned as a dream target.

The New York connection has also long been in the rumor mill, so perhaps the Rangers and Islanders will be able to do more than increase his asking price.

(Pagnotta later updated that Chicago is not in Panarin’s plans.)

UPDATE: Later, Pagnotta doubled down to say something else we’ve heard a bit here and there: That Lamoriello is “big-game hunting” and will make a hard push for Panarin:

Anyway, unlike Panarin and the Blue Jackets, Lee has been quoted as never wanting to leave the Islanders, so he sounds disappointed that their seasonlong negotiations have even reached this point.

But it’s a tricky situation for both parties, with the Islanders clearly needing to upgrade last season’s roster while Lee seeks what is surely his last big contract.

Though the Islanders have salary cap room for Panarin even at upwards of $11 million, if they were to land him (a big IF) they would need to be careful with the rest of their long-term commitments. Islanders forwards Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle have already re-signed for what is almost certainly less than what they could have commanded at summer UFA auction.

Meanwhile, if it’s true Lee’s camp has been looking for maximum term (i.e. seven or eight years), then that’s all the more reason for the Islanders to be very conservative with the average annual value — if they are even willing to go that long for their captain.

That may be little comfort Lee, however. Lee’s production history and style of play project to decline sooner and steeper than Panarin’s, but both will be 29 at the beginning of the coming season.

Even if Panarin is the hottest name on the market, going all out for a new guy while preaching fiscal responsibility with the long-time soldier may give the Islanders’ captain pause.

Meanwhile, in RFA Land...: Marner

Speaking of navigating long-term commitments, there have been no concrete reports about who Maple Leafs restricted free agent Mitch Marner will hear from when the listening period for RFAs begins Wednesday.

But you imagine former Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello would at least check in on a player he knows well, and no telling whether the pitch would include a snazzy video of his number joining 5, 9, 19, 22, 23 and 31 in the Elmont rafters after helping the Islanders to their fifth Stanley Cup win since 1967...

On that note, Pierre LeBrun thinks the Marner outcome, if he doesn’t return to the Leafs, could come via trade:

But I also think part of why some teams will come calling Wednesday if Marner still hasn’t re-signed with the Leafs is that they want to know officially from agent Darren Ferris what it would take to get in the ball game contract-wise. And here’s where this thing could go a few different ways: I do think some teams, if they think they can sign Marner, would prefer trading for his rights rather than going the offer sheet route [as in when the Leafs acquired Phil Kessel from Boston]

Unlike Panarin, the price for Marner would be extravagantly steep in both salary/term and compensation, as it would involve either four first-round picks (if an offer sheet beyond Toronto’s cap room went unmatched) or major assets via trade.

It still sounds highly unlikely he switches teams, but it sounds like Marner will take us on a popcorn-worthy adventure to find out.