COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Flyers don’t need Bob.
They need Bread.
Of the potential unrestricted free agents who could hit the market July 1, Artemi Panarin (nicknamed "Bread Man" for Panera) may have shot up to the top of general manager Chuck Fletcher’s wish list.
Then again, Panarin is probably tops on a handful of general managers' list of priorities.
Impressively, the 27-year-old Russian became just the third undrafted player in NHL history to begin his career with four consecutive 70-point seasons, joining a guy named Wayne Gretzky and Peter Stastny.
The Blue Jackets' left winger put on another puck-handling, playmaking clinic against the Flyers in Columbus' 4-3 overtime win Thursday at Nationwide Arena, amplified by the slick pass to defenseman Seth Jones for the game-winner at the end of a 1:24 shift (see observations).
"He's the best player I've seen when he's tired,“ head coach John Tortorella said, “Maybe not defensively, but offensively he is.”
If you’re looking for proof, then watch the move Panarin put on Claude Giroux in the neutral zone to create the easy two-on-one scoring chance.
“He’s one of the best talents in the league, that’s for sure,” Jakub Voracek said. “You never know where he’s going to go with that puck. He’s really good on his edges and he sells every option that you think he’s going to do.”
Undoubtedly, it was more Panarin than Sergei Bobrovsky behind the Blue Jackets' regular-season sweep of the Flyers, as he totaled nine points in the four games. Bobrovsky did just enough to earn the wins, but Panarin was the catalyst behind those victories.
The Jackets are putting all their chips in for this season and they won’t be able to cash out next season.
Panarin, Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, along with defensemen Ryan Murray and Zach Werenski, all need new contracts, and you can be sure Fletcher will be monitoring the negotiations closely.
“Going into the summer, we have an awful lot of cap space. We have a few young players we have to sign, but we have a lot of cap space,” Fletcher said this week. “I think we’ll be able to fill the needs that we feel we need to address.”
Adding a sniper and sharpshooter from the outside is a player the Flyers haven’t had since the days of Simon Gagne, and those types of players rarely find their way to free agency, especially during the prime years of their careers.
With Panarin’s agent Dan Milstein informing the Blue Jackets they won’t discuss a new deal until after the season is over, it may be to Fletcher’s benefit to see where it goes and perhaps offer up a second-or-third-round draft pick for exclusive negotiating rights to Panarin, in much the same way Paul Holmgren did with Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen in the summer of 2007.
When the Flyers made the change from Ron Hextall to Fletcher, the decision was to win now, and one of the quickest ways to get there is to sign a player of Panarin’s caliber, which could be somewhere in the $10 million range.
Bread would be nice, but you need plenty of dough to get it done.
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