Panthers get Stanley Cup winning coach Joel Quenneville
The Russians are coming … possibly … and maybe even probably.
Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky recently listed his Ohio condo for sale, and the Florida Panthers would love to see him put down roots in South Florida as part of their organization.
Bobrovsky and teammate, fellow Russian and high-scoring winger Artemi “Bread Man” Panarin are set to become free agents July 1, and the Panthers are among the favorites to bring both of them into the franchise as a package deal.
Bobrovsky, 30, has twice won the Vezina Trophy (2013, 2017), awarded to the NHL’s top goalie. He is also coming off the first playoff series win of his career, leading Columbus to a four-game, first-round sweep over the team that had been favored to win the Stanley Cup, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Still, overall, Bobrovsky has been a better regular-season goalie (2.46 goals-against average) than a playoff netminder (3.14 GAA).
Panaran, 27, was the NHL’s Rookie of the Year in 2016, and he has posted at least 27 goals and 74 points in each of his four NHL seasons. This past season, he broke the Columbus single-season points record with 87. In 27 career playoff games, he has nine goals and 26 points. And in nine career games against the Panthers, he has one goal and eight assists.
He has also been highly durable, missing just six games in four years.
Panarin recently turned down an attempt by Columbus to re-sign him, with the offer averaging $9 million annually. He will likely command at least $10 million annually.
Bobrovsky just finished a contract in which his average annual salary was $7.3 million. Two years ago, Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price, who has one Vezina Trophy, set the market for an elite goalie, getting an eight-year, $84 million deal at age 29. Bobrovsky will be looking for a deal averaging $10.5 million per season.
Here’s a closer look at Florida’s chances of signing these two stars:
▪ The Panarin chase: Panarin reportedly bought a cozy $700,000 South Beach condo last year, and he wants to play in a big market, near the beach and with a large Russian community.
The Panthers seem to check all the boxes for Panarin, who will also draw major interest from the New York Rangers. The Panthers have at least two major advantages over the Rangers: 1) No state taxes charged in Florida; 2) New Cats coach Joel Quenneville coached Panarin with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who in large part built that Blackhawks dynasty, is very familiar with Panarin, and Florida has about $20 million in salary-cap room for him and Bobrovsky.
As added incentive, Panarin in Florida would join forces with his good friend, Panthers winger Evgeni Dadonov, and with star center Aleksander Barkov, whose father is Russian.
If the Panthers can sign Bobrovsky, that should make Panarin even more comfortable in South Florida.
Advantages for the Rangers are: 1) It’s New York, the biggest hockey market in the country; 2) New team president John Davidson joined the Rangers this summer from Columbus, where he acquire Panarin from Chicago; 3) New York could be a team on the rise with the expected drafting on June 21 of Finnish star winger Kaapo Kakko.
The Rangers have plenty of cap room — $15.6 million — to add Panarin. The Rangers also have several top Russians in their system, including wingers Pavel Buchnevich and Vitali Kravtsov, their 2018 first-round pick; and emerging goalie prospect Igor Shesterkin.
Still, the Panthers have to be considered the leaders of the “Bread” line.
▪ The Bobrovsky chase: The Panthers are likely working to trade one of their two veteran goalies. James Reimer, 31, has two years left on his contact at $3.4 million per season. Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo ($4.5 million per season) is 40 and has three years left on his deal. Reimer is more likely to get traded than Luongo.
Meanwhile, Bobrovsky’s agent is Paul Theofanous. In December, Panarin fired his agent and hired Theofanous, strengthening the idea of a package deal to Florida.
But, unlike Panarin and the Rangers, no team has of yet stepped up as a rival to Florida’s apparent designs on Bobrovsky. Possible destinations for Bobrovsky, other than Florida, could include Calgary, where Mike Smith is a free agent; Edmonton, Vancouver, Colorado and the New York Islanders, where Robin Lehner is a free agent.
If anything, the Panthers should sign Bobrovsky so he can stop killing them. In 16 career games against Florida, Bobrovsky is 13-1-2 with a 1.94 GAA.