If Panarin signs with the Rangers, what’s the benchmark for UFA success
In the summer of 2018, the world of the NHL was a abuzz regarding the potential destination of pending unrestricted free agent, John Tavares. A plethora of teams made their respective pitches to the then-Islanders captain to try and entice number 91 to pack his bags and leave that vagabond franchise in his rear view mirror and head for greener pastures. As we all know, Tavares bolted Brooklyn to sign with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs and fulfill a life long dream.
In the summer of 2019, there is expected to be an equal amount of anticipation and excitement over where Columbus Blue Jackets forward Artemi Panarin will decide to hang out his shingle. Franchise changing players hitting the open market smack dab in the middle of their prime is not a usual occurrence. Since the NHL finally granted its veteran players unrestricted free agent status in the early 1990s, you could count on one hand just how often this phenomenon has occurred.
Panarin is only 27 years of age and has played in fewer than 300 regular season NHL games. The talented Russian has averaged slightly under a point-per-game over his first 3+ campaigns. He won the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year in 2016. He is widely regarded as, not just an offensive juggernaut, but also a terrific all-around player. If he does in fact decide not to re-sign with Columbus and he enters the world of unrestricted free agency, there will be a bidding war for his services the likes of which the NHL has rarely seen.
The omnipresent speculation floating around the Twitter-sphere is that Panarin wants to take his immense talents to the Big Apple. Like thousands of mid-westerners have before him, the supremely skilled “Bread Man” wants to, allegedly, leave small town life in the American heartland and venture out to Broadway to become a superstar. It seems like a good marriage, right? I mean, the Rangers have the cap room to outbid virtually any potential Panarin suitor. Plus, the Rangers can offer him something that most teams cannot, and that is the currently vacant captaincy.
It remains to be seen whether or not Panarin will leave Ohio’s state capital and whether or not his Rangers fascination is legitimate or exaggeration. Panarin certainly is not the first, nor will he be the last, big ticket free agent to express interest in making Manhattan his hockey-playing home.
While many of The Garden Faithful are salivating over the prospect of buying a Blueshirts sweater with “Panarin” scrawled across the name plate, and seeing Jeff Gorton and David Quinn up at the podium with the newly introduced Blueshirt, let’s pump the breaks just a bit and let’s hold on before we start slotting him in on the Rangers top line next season. After all, the Rangers history of handing out lucrative unrestricted free agent contracts is not exactly admirable. From Neil Smith (Theo Fleury) to Glen Sather (way too many to mention) to Jeff Gorton (Kevin Shattenkirk), one big ticket player after another seemed to stop caring about hockey once they signed on the dotted lines and started receiving all of that guaranteed money, getting caught up living the high life in New York City along the way
The Rangers have had to use the NHL’s collectively bargained buyout clause to erase free agent mistakes an embarrassingly high amount of times. Bobby Holik, Chris Drury, Wade Redden, Brad Richards; you know, I will stop right there. No need to go on and re-open some pretty deep wounds for Rangers Nation.
Instead of rehashing past failures, let’s turn our attention to the one unrestricted free agent transaction in recent history that actually paid dividends for the Rangers and that is Marian Gaborik. The Slovakian sniper became a Ranger in the summer of 2009. Gaborik would go on to become one of only three Rangers in their entire 93 year history to have multiple 40+ goal seasons, joining the esteemed Jean Ratelle and the goal scoring machine that was Mike Gartner. Gaborik is the last Blueshirt to eclipse the 80-point plateau notching 86 points in the 2009-10 season.
Gaborik was able to flourish under the intense heat and media scrutiny of being a top New York Rangers free agent prize when so many others before him had crumbled. He was not intimidated by the bright lights of the big city. He was not in awe of the multitude of nightly celebrities shown on the massive MSG scoreboard. Even though Gaborik was unceremoniously shipped out of New York in the spring of 2013, to Columbus of all places, the fact remains that his run on Broadway was as successful as any unrestricted free agent before or since.
The likelihood of Panarin declaring himself a free agent on July 1st and creating a league-wide bidding war for his services seems to be growing by the day. If Jeff Gorton does, in fact, make the “Bread Man” an offer he can’t refuse and that introductory press conference with him standing in front of the Ranger banner holding a Rangers jersey with his name on it comes to fruition, then Rangerstown has to hope he follows in the footsteps of his fellow European who fled the quiet life in the midwest for the hustle and bustle and potential stardom on Broadway.