As it turns out, Artemi Panarin really, really didn’t want to play for the Columbus Blue Jackets. But he did want to play for their former team president. There’s a lot of speculation out there that if John Davidson doesn’t leave the Blue Jackets to take over the New York Rangers, Panarin would have either been toasting himself on a beach in South Florida – see what we did there? – or taking his talents to the New York Islanders.
But here he is in Manhattan, where after taking a couple of years off, the Rangers are back to attracting the most sought-after, best and most prolific free agents on the board. History tells us that strategy has had less-than-ideal results for the Rangers, but this one could very well turn out to be a great move. First, Panarin is just 27 years old and is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, his offensive numbers might even be on the up-tick. He had a career-best 87 points this past season and with only four NHL seasons on his resume, he doesn’t have a lot of NHL miles on his body.
The Rangers will rocket to the top of many pundits’ “winners” lists for July 1 and they should. They got the best player in free agency and they got him to leave money on the table. Had Panarin accepted the Blue Jackets’ last-ditch offer, he would have been making at least $96 million over eight years. At seven years and $81.5 million, the AAV will be similar, but in order to get the amount the Blue Jackets were giving him, he would have had to sign for $13.7 million a year.
And suddenly, the Rangers have become one of the more intriguing teams in the NHL. It’s pretty clear that GM Jeff Gorton has been on a roll with his acquisitions, which will complement a group of young players that is impressive, both in its depth and talent level. With the addition of Jacob Trouba on defense and Kaapo Kakko with the second overall pick and the Rangers have become a serious threat, if not in the short-term, definitely in the long term. They’ll certainly be better on the wing with Panarin, Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov coming on board. Certainly the prospect of Mika Zibanejad centering Panarin and Kakko on the top line is an exciting one.
And so ends one of the longest-running soap opera dramas in NHL history. It had been a long mating dance between the Blue Jackets and Panarin, with the Blue Jackets doing all the dancing. Panarin never asked to be traded from the Chicago Blackhawks to Columbus and, it should be remembered, he never led them to believe he was intent on staying there. Ever. It’s obviously about more than money for Panarin because if it had only been about getting paid, he would have stayed with Columbus. He helped give the Blue Jackets their first series win in playoff history and now he’ll be a huge part of helping the Rangers get into the playoffs and be a serious contender.
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