Each day through the opening of NHL free agency on July 1, TSN.ca breaks down the latest news and rumours around the NHL.

Chasing No. 1

With the unrestricted free agent courting period underway, plenty of interest is generating for TSN Hockey's top ranked UFA - Artemi Panarin.

According to Adrian Dater of Colorado Hockey Now, the Colorado Avalanche met with Panarin's agent on Sunday and pitched their "significant interest" in the winger.

TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie reported Sunday that Panarin and his Columbus Blue Jackets teammate Sergei Bobrovsky will visit the Florida Panthers on Monday. McKenzie noted the team would like to sign both, but goaltender is currently a bigger need for the Panthers.

The Blue Jackets intend to reach out to Panarin, Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene this week before they hit the market on July 1, but general manager Jarmo Kekalainen told The Athletic the team could lose all three.

“We thought this could happen, so if it happens, we’re not going to be shocked,” Kekalainen said. “At the deadline, we knew this could be the case, and if it’s the case, we’ll move forward with what we have and start building other ways to fill those holes.

“We’ve said all along that we assumed the risk, and if they’re gone we’re going to have lots of cap space and lots of different opportunities to move forward. Life goes on. That was part of the risk we were willing to take.”


Up Against The Cap

Ken Wiebe of The Winnipeg Sun notes the Jets are on of the teams feeling the squeeze the NHL salary cap set at $81.5 million after initial projections had the number at $83 million.

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff appeared to rule out the idea of buying out the final season of Dmitry Kulikov's $4.3 million contract on Saturday, a move which would save the Jets $2.9 million this year, but cost them $1.4 million in 2020-21.

“(Kulikov) is part of our team here,” said Cheveldayoff. “There’s lots of different situations that could come up over the course of the next week. He’s someone that when we signed him, he’s played since he was 18, 20-something minutes a night. With the depth of our team obviously his minutes are pushed down. We feel fully comfortable that if this is our defence going in, then that’s what it’s going to be. But obviously we’re having conversations out there.

“We have two UFA guys that everyone can have conversations with. It’s about keeping an open dialogue. The reality is we’re not going to be able to keep everybody.”

Wiebe believes the Jets could be priced out of the market when it comes to retaining defenceman Tyler Myers, who he believes could earn more than $6 million annually on his new deal.

“It’s the market. You can sit here and try and make your own market and do whatever you can or have the ability to do, but the market will set itself,” said Cheveldayoff. “I’m a guy where the doors are always open until the doors are closed. We’ll see how things play out this week.”

The Jets have a total of six players scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency on July 1, while the team also has seven restricted free agents in need of new deals, including Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor. Cheveldayoff admitted over the weekend the Jets are unlikely to make a splash in the UFA market with so much internal business still to do.

“There’s a reality. When you’re a team that is starting to have an established core and you still have some things to get done with your core players as well, there has to be a fit with both sides to start talking to someone,” said Cheveldayoff. “Obviously, we’ve got some good pieces in place and you’re always looking to fill in around the edges.”

Still on the Block?

Phil Kessel remains on the Pittsburgh Penguins roster with the often trade-heavy NHL Draft now in the rear view mirror, but Jason Bombulie of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review believes trading the veteran winger remains the team's "most logical off-season move."

Bombulie argues that moving Kessel would be the shakeup general manager Jim Rutherford is looking for this summer, though working within Kessel's eight-team trade list remains a difficult task. Rutherford, who said Friday that moving Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang this off-season is "highly unlikely", kept the door open for a move last week.

“I’m not actively looking to trade him at this point,” Rutherford told 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh. “If somebody comes along with a deal that makes sense, we’ll take a look at it.”

Kessel, 31,  is ranked No. 3 on the TSN Trade Bait board. He has spent the past four seasons with the Penguins, winning the Stanley Cup with the team in both 2016 and 2017. He scored 27 goals and posted 82 points in 82 games this season and added one goal and two points in four playoff games.