Teams and players are preparing for Monday's start to free agency in the NHL, and Artemi Panarin of the Columbus Blue Jackets seems to be the player who has the best chance of earning the most impressive contract.
The high-scoring left wing met with the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, per a report from longtime NHL reporter Adrian Dater. That appears to be just a start, because Panarin also was in the process of meeting with the Florida Panthers, according to WSVN sports anchor Mike DiPasquale.
Those two teams should be just the tip of the iceberg for Panarin, who has excelled for the Chicago Blackhawks and the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 27-year-old has scored 116 goals in his four-year career. Panarin has converted at least 11.8 percent of his shots per season into goals, with his best mark of 16.0 percent coming in his rookie year.
The Russian played his first two years with Chicago before he was traded. The Blackhawks were in a mode when they had to clear salary, and the Blue Jackets were the beneficiaries. Panarin has the ability to create time and space when he has the puck in the offensive zone.
The Blue Jackets want to keep him and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, but it would seem their chances of signing either player are slim. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen attempted to sign both players during the regular season, but neither player wanted to sign a new deal at the time.
Bobrovsky has also had talks about signing with the Florida Panthers, per DiPasquale. Bobrovsky had a 37-24-1 record in 2018-19 with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage.
The 30-year-old can be one of the best goalies in the league when he is on his game; however, he can have a difficult time maintaining consistency.
Speaking of the Blackhawks, they surged in the second half of the season and made a run at the playoffs before falling short in the final days of the regular season.
Chicago has already traded for defensemen Olli Maatta from the Pittsburgh Penguins and Calvin de Haan from the Carolina Hurricanes, and the team is likely to be active in free agency.
In addition to pitching Panarin, Chicago is expected to go after Anders Lee of the New York Islanders, per David Pagnotta of the Fourth Period.
The 6'3", 231-pound center has established himself as a big-time scorer in each of the past three seasons. He scored 34 goals in 2016-17, and the left-hander followed that with 40 and 28 goals, respectively.
If the Blackhawks can sign Lee, who turns 29 on July 3, it would ease the burden on captain Jonathan Toews, who has already played 12 seasons with Chicago and recently turned 31 years old. The Minnesota native should be one of the league's most attractive free agents.