With the NHL unrestricted free agent speaking period having opened earlier this morning, many players can begin to talk to other teams to decide what team they might want to play for next season. Two of the biggest free agents on the market, Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, are expected to participate immediately. The two stars are expected to arrive in Florida en route from Russia and TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that they are expected to both meet with the Florida Panthers on Monday morning.
While the two big-named free agents from Columbus don’t necessarily come as a package, both have been speculated to end up with the Panthers. Florida has $20.48MM in cap space available, which could cover both players’ price tags, although the team also has some needs on defense as well. McKenzie also points out that while it wants to sign both players, Florida’s top priority is signing a goaltender, which means that Bobrovsky is likely the team’s top free-agent candidate.
The team still has two goalies under contract in Roberto Luongo and James Reimer, but neither goaltender played well last year. Luongo, who still has three years remaining at $4.53MM, managed to appear in 43 games despite often dealing with injuries, but finished with a 3.11 GAA and a .899 save percentage. While nothing is official, the rumor is that Luongo wants to come back as the team’s backup. Reimer, the team’s current backup, has two years remaining on his contract at $3.4MM. He struggled as well last season, posting a 3.09 GAA and a .900 save percentage. The team is working on finding a trade partner willing to take Reimer’s contract in hopes of freeing up some extra cap room to make more changes. Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, would give Florida a impact goaltender for the first time in years. The 30-year-old didn’t have his usual strong season, posting a 2.58 GAA and a .913 save percentage, but finally stepped up in the playoffs after years of struggles, picking up six wins and a .925 save percentage.
Panarin has plenty of suitors, but many have felt for more than a year that the 27-year-old scorer was interested in moving to Florida and joining the Panthers. That thought was intensified after the Panthers signed his former coach Joel Quenneville to be their new head coach. Quenneville coached Panarin for his first two years in the league when he played with the Blackhawks and the two had a good relationship. It’s hard to believe that Panarin has only been in the league for four years, but in that time, he’s tallied 116 goals and 320 points. With his young age, he’d be a perfect fit alongside players like Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov. Panarin is also being recruited by a number of other teams, including the New York Rangers, who hope to get a shot at signing the free agent.