NHL Free Agency Preview: Which Stars Will the Locals Grab?

It’s THAT time for Rangers, Islanders and Devils fans to do some deep thinking.

Grab your crystal balls, Ouija boards and other forecast devices because the Free Agent Frenzy begins on Monday at Noon, Eastern Standard Time.

it’s time to guess who — or if — our local sextets capture any important quarry led by the Columbus Blue Jackets gold-dust twins, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and winger Artemi Panarin: alias Bob and The Bread Man; further shortened to Bob and Bread.

Our Steve Valiquette makes the case for why the Blueshirts should go after Blue Jackets winger Artemi Panarin in free agency.

The Hockey News calls it “The Greatest Free Agent Class Of All-Time.”

Can the Rangers, Islanders or Devils corral such game-changers? This much is certain; nothing is impossible when it’s frenzy time.

“Unlike past years,” writes The Hockey News‘ lead columnist Ken Campbell, “there are some seriously good players who will hit the open market.”

Might the Mighty Mite, Mats Zuccarello, be the vet Lou Lamoriello grabs for his Isles as he did last year when securing Valtteri Filppula and Leo Komarov?

TAMPA, FL – NOVEMBER 2: Mats Zuccarello #36 of the New York Rangers celebrates the game-winning goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the overtime period at Amalie Arena on November 2, 2017 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

Some analysts believe that New Jersey’s goaltending could be bolstered due to the injury questions around Cory Schneider. Ex-Jersey goalie Keith Kinkaid will be available. He’s only 29 and was part of the Devils’ surprising playoff berth in 2017-18.

That said, it appears that Devils GM Ray Shero will gamble on Schneider and the gifted youngster, Mackenzie Blackwood.

Such questions are confronting Shero, Lamoriello and their Rangers counterpart, Jeff Gorton?

So far, the following biggies have been scratched off all G.M. lists — Erik Karlsson (San Jose), Jeff Skinner (Buffalo), and Kevin Hayes (Philadelphia); as well as Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson of the Islanders.

The Eberle signing defied most media types who expected Jordan to test the Free Agent market. But the former Oiler pointed out what others such Robin Lehner and captain Anders Lee have said; they like the Islanders’ ambiance.

The winner of the 2018-19 Jack Adams Award, Islanders head coach Barry Trotz reflects on the team's magical season and gives an update on the Isles' pursuit of pending free agents Anders Lee and Robin Lehner.

“We win by community,” Eberle explains. “There’s strength in this group. When everyone in the room feels that, it creates a bond.”

Lou quickly signed Jordan and Brock. By contrast, there have — at this point in time — not been any new deals inked by captain Lee or the extremely popular goalie Lehner, although that quickly can change before Monday.

Several well-known veterans will tempt the Locals if only because they’ll be available at bargain rates. The Hockey News, for example, lists a number of what it calls “Best Value UFAs.”

They include left wing Thomas Vanek; Goalie Mike Smith; Defenseman Braden Coburn, left wing Tyler Ennis, Center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and left wing, Brandon Pirri.

“It all makes for arguably the most intriguing July 1 signing day and summer we’ve seen in free agency,” said Campbell of The Hockey News.

Just bear in mind that no deals can officially be signed until free agency begins.

When it comes to Unrestricted Free Agents such as the Islanders’ Lee and Lehner — who at this point have yet to be re-signed — players who re-sign with their original teams can get a maximum term of eight years.

Up for the Bill Masterton award, Islanders goalie Robin Lehner reflects on his long journey and reiterates his desire that he wants to return to the Isles.

Meanwhile, there’s no certainty about which team ultimately will wind up with the Blue Jackets’ two pillars, Panarin and Bobrovsky. It’s not inconceivable that the Rangers and Islanders still are in the mix for Panarin.

Matthew Blittner, who previously has written for MSG Networks website and author of “Unforgettable Rangers”, has intently followed the Blueshirts’ moves all season. He doubts that the Rangers will make a big splash in the Free Agency Frenzy.

“With the Rangers in the midst of the second phase of their rebuild,” Blittner insists, “it’s not likely they’re ready to go all in on a star like Panarin. To get The Bread Man,they’d have to look to trade away/buy out several players to make room under the Salary Cap.”

Meanwhile, well-respected Canadian columnist Elliotte Friedman recently suggested that the Islanders remain in the Panarin Derby; but not the Devils.

Considering that Shero already delivered a one-two punch — first landing Jack Hughes with the top Draft pick and then obtaining marquee star defenseman P.K. Subban — he’s not expected to provide another kayo blow by going after Panarin.

Our very own Erika Wachter calls into the MSG 150 to speak with Bill Pidto and Alan Hahn about the Devils' blockbuster additions this summer: Jack Hughes and PK Subban. Will the duo brings some big-time star power to New Jersey?

Rob Taub, who has covered the Devils all season for The Maven’s newsletter The Fischler Report, believes that Shero might take a shot at free agent left wing, Michael Ferland. At 27, Ferland is considered a throwback power forward.

“If the dollars and term are right,” says Taub, “I could see Shero going after Ferland. He could float in the Devils’ middle six.”

What we do know is that speculation remains the order of the day. We’ll get more into reality — alias Free Agency Frenzy — on Monday!

Stay tuned!

[Get a Complete Rundown of the NHL Free Agency Frenzy Monday Beginning at 4 PM on the MSG 150 Special on MSG and MSG Go. Get the App Now.]

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.