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NHL Free Agency: Islanders miss on Artemi Panarin, who’s signing with rival Rangers

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A second consecutive summer of swinging and missing, while Anders Lee appears headed elsewhere too

Columbus Blue Jackets v New York Rangers
But he didn’t even have their pajamas!
Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

Despite being labeled the “front runner” at various points and reportedly offering the highest offer from any non-Columbus team, the New York Islanders have missed out on Blue Jackets free agent winger Artemi Panarin.

Worse? Instead of losing him to the Florida Panthers, a long-rumored destination along with Sergei Bobrovsky, the Russian winger is instead headed to the crosstown rival New York Rangers. The average annual value is expected to be around $11.6 million, according to reports.

Whoops!

Meanwhile, their two key remaining free agents, Anders Lee and Robin Lehner, appear to be on the way out. By one report, offers for Lee were in the $9 million average annual value range — probably a level worth passing on unless it’s on a shorter term.

[UPDATE: Apparently the Islanders are “circling back” on Lee, though who knows at what number:

Whatever the economics, the Islanders and Lou Lamoriello now need to move to Plan C and D, whatever those are. Maybe actually play more kids?

Or maybe...our worst fears: stack up on a bunch of “veterans” who would add questionable value. We’ll see. I won’t say “I told you so” because you never know how this will all shake out, but this is basically the fear I had from the beginning of this wild chase: That the Isles would whiff on the big fish, while two key players walk, and a scramble for replacements follows.

What Panarin Brings to (the other) New York

Why would the Islanders risk so much to chase Panarin? In the eyes of the coach who loved him so, via Craig Custance of the Athletic:

“He had a unique skill set that was top, top end,” Quenneville said of their time together with the Blackhawks. “They had a unique chemistry, him and (Patrick Kane) Kaner. It was a privilege to watch those guys play on a daily basis. … We’ll see.”

Custance also quoted an NHL scout:

“Wherever he goes, he’s going to make whoever he plays with that much better,” he said. “He didn’t have a whole lot to play with in Columbus. He’s going to play with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. That’s a massive upgrade.”

He is older — all unrestricted free agents are — but not Sergei Bobrovsky or (heh) David Backes old or Joe Pavelski old. He can be expected to be a significant positive contributor for at least half of this contract, and quite possibly more.

He has been very durable, averaging 80-plus games per season since coming over from the KHL at age 24 four seasons ago. (There is also the theory that for that reason he has less “mileage” on him, given the KHL’s lighter schedule, larger rinks, less wear, etc. That theory has merit but cannot be proven in any individual case.)

Rivalry Intensifies

Panarin is going to be great, sadly. The crosstown rivals’ rebuild got significant lottery help this spring, so the chances of both New York metro teams mattering at the same time has increased significantly.

As the crew over at Blueshirt Banter were writing early in the chase for Panarin:

While the long-term goal of perennial Cup contention hasn’t shifted no matter the outcome, just how quickly the Rangers expect to open that window will largely hinge on Panarin’s decision.

Bottom Line: Welp.

The Islanders risked a whole lot, and offered a lot of money — the highest bid, by some reports, except for Columbus — to land this summer’s top free agent draw.

Now they’ve missed while their captain also appears headed out the door.

Fans are going to remember this day, and not for happy reasons.