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NHL Free Agency: Islanders no longer ‘favorite’ for Panarin (oops)

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The Islanders reportedly had the highest bid, but could not land Artemi Panarin.

2019 NHL Draft - Round 2-7
Don’t call me a favorite until the deed is done.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It’s been an up, down and sideways week for New York Islanders fans following free agency rumors and leanings during the listening period and as teams and players could formally announce moves.

The Islanders were pursuing top free agent winger Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who some wondered may be in a “package” weighing either the Florida Panthers or the Islanders.

[NOTE: This post has been updated with Panarin’s eventual destination.]

But by evening before signing day, one of the oracles of the business had this to say about where things stood:

Note from the prior tweet that Bob McKenzie labeled this as part of his “speculation” thread, which proved to be prescient:

UPDATE: Blue Jackets Make last-ditch, max-term offer

Then there was this, from Aaron Portzline who covers the Blue Jackets of the Athletic:

Amid reports that Panarin is likely to sign on Monday with the New York Islanders, the Blue Jackets have put a massive offer on the table with agent Paul Theofanous, believed to be eight years and at least $96 million, an average annual value of $12 million per season.

[...]

The Blue Jackets are the only team that can offer Panarin an eight-year contract, but the window on that is closing quickly. It would have to be agreed upon and signed by midnight Sunday.

Honestly? It seems like the Blue Jackets offer would be a smokescreen to unsettle a rival and their departing free agent. They’ve always wanted to hold on to Panarin, so it would be odd if only now he decided to stay for that extra year. But it makes things interesting.

Anyway, as you know, Panarin went to the Rangers instead. Ouch.

Regardless, the next question is the Islanders’ remaining key free agents: goalie Robin Lehner and captain Anders Lee.

(Friedman had something to say about Lee, too: “The Canadiens are believed to be in on Anders Lee (potentially at seven x $8 million, but Chicago has been lurking there, too.)”).

We’ve argued in these quarters that the Islanders need upgrades by addition, so it behooves them to find a way to fit Lee in even if they land Panarin.

Lehner is a more complex question, for various “it’s a business” reasons, and that leads to another rumored free agent connection: goalie Semyon Varlamov, most recently of the Colorado Avalanche.

The 31-year-old Varlamov is in an arguably weaker bargaining position than Vezina finalist Lehner, so he’d likely command less term or money than Lehner. But he also could be a bridge to a potential Islander heir apparent, KHL goalie Ilya Sorokin.

Varlamov is coming off some down seasons with injury-abetted inconsistency to close out a five-year contract that averaged $5.9 million per year. But the case could be made he might refind his form under the Islanders goaltending coaching which helped both Lehner and Thomas Greiss, and if he we sharing a more even load with Greiss.

Regardless, it sounds like Lehner is headed out...

...but it’s important to remember all of the above can change. Seven hours before the Islanders were seen as a “favorite” for Panarin, the Panthers instead had been called the “front runner.”

Fortunately, it sounds like these things may be sorted out on July 1 rather than dragging into an extra day or two. That still leaves plenty of time to dig up childhood bedroom photos for social media.