Artemi Panarin’s Free Agency Decision Has Enormous Implications

It is time. July 1 is here.

The NHL has its eyes set on where free agent Artemi Panarin will land. The leading teams that are in the mix seem to be the Florida Panthers, New York Rangers, and New York Islanders, with the Islanders actually emerging as the favorite. But could Panarin’s decision on where to play next year have a more significant implication than the actual impact of signing Panarin?

For a long time, the Islanders have been the epitome of awful. Their team play was horrendous and their management was atrocious. When you combine those two things, you get an extremely undesirable location to play in. So, when a player finds out they are traded the first thing they ask is, “Where am I going,” praying that “Long Island” isn’t the answer. The sad truth was no player wanted to play for the Islanders. It was déja vu when a player would turn down signing with the Islanders to sign elsewhere for less money.

In the summer of 2011, the Islanders traded for 28-year-old Swedish defenseman Christian Ehrhoff’s rights, from the Vancouver Canucks, giving up a fourth round pick in an attempt to sign him when he became an unrestricted free agent on July 1. It did not go well.

The Islanders’ aggressive but unsuccessful effort to sign Canucks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff this week illustrated a serious issue for them heading into free agency:

They still struggle to sign top talent.

Ehrhoff, who spurned the Islanders’ multiyear offer and Thursday signed a 10-year, $40-million deal with Buffalo, is the latest player to reject them. Regardless of the promising young players who have emerged, general manager Garth Snow has a tough job starting Friday, when the free-agent signing period begins. Free agents still do not see Long Island as an attractive landing spot.

That much was apparent last July, when Snow offered coveted defensemen Paul Martin and Dan Hamhuis more money than any other team (both signed elsewhere), and Wednesday, when Ehrhoff declined the Islanders’ proposal. Snow confirmed that he offered about $1.5 million more per year than the average yearly salary Ehrhoff reportedly signed for with Buffalo.

However, the Islanders organization started to climb out of the gutter last year. During the 2017-18 offseason, the Islanders made Lou Lamoriello President of hockey operations and general manager. Then, Lamoriello hired Stanely Cup champion coach, Barry Trotz. This house cleaning was the first step in the right direction for the Islanders.

The Islanders continued to take more steps in the right direction as they swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Then, this month the Islanders re-signed forward Jordan Eberle. The Islanders acquired Eberle two summers ago in 2017 for Ryan Strome. Eberle has a monstrous first round against the Penguins and a decent second round against the Hurricanes. Signing Eberle was huge for the Islanders. It demonstrated they could trade for players and have them re-sign with the organization. Re-signing Eberle was another step taking by the Islanders organization to continue to move in the right direction.

But, this upcoming free agency could represent a turning point for the Islanders.

If Artemi Panarin chooses the Islanders over the New York Rangers, it will symbolize the end of the Islanders as an undesirable location for free agents. Choosing to sign with the Islanders over the mecca of New York City, as well as sunny Florida, would truly show the Islanders are for real. It would display that players can come to Long Island to compete for the Stanely Cup.

It would put an end to years of pain and hardship. For once, the future is bright for the Islanders.

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