Free agency is just around the corner and speculation has already begun regarding the landing spots of some top talent. Craig Custance of The Athletic (subscription required) released his early list of the top 20 unrestricted free agents, and Artemi Panarin’s name lands on top with little surprise. The Columbus Blue Jackets’ superstar is expected to have many suitors this offseason, but Custance and others have suggested there may be a deal coming earlier than July 1.
The scribe writes that “it would be a bit surprising” if Panarin makes it that far, instead examining a potential sign-and-trade scenario in order to secure an eight-year contract. That would get Columbus some assets back, though given the lack of historical precedent it is not clear how valuable a move like that would be. Once again Panarin is linked to former head coach Joel Quenneville, who is now with the Florida Panthers.
- Rick Nash may not be playing professional hockey anymore, but that doesn’t mean he’s completely given up the game. Aaron Portzline of The Athletic (subscription required) details how Nash has been shadowing Blue Jackets’ GM Jarmo Kekalainen for some time, including attending the current IIHF World Championship. Nash will also attend the NHL Entry Draft with the Columbus contingent, though there is no official word on what his role with the organization will be moving forward. The former star forward was forced to retire due to health concerns stemming from several concussions over his long career.
- Kendall Coyne Schofield, Hilary Knight, Marie-Philip Poulin and many other players have announced the formation of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association. The organization “will serve as a vehicle dedicated to promoting and supporting the creation of a single, viable women’s professional league in North America.” Earlier this year more than 200 top players announced a boycott of the NWHL and other leagues for this season, as they seek a more financially sustainable league that can provide the resources required for them to play at a high level.