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Free Fallin'

With NHL Free Agency beginning July 1, which teams will land the top UFAs?

by Bob Condor / @NHLSeattle_ / NHLSeattle.com

July 1 is Canada Day, where we celebrate the birth of our northern neighbor's constitution with cookouts and fireworks. It's also the start of NHL Free Agency, where the biggest unrestricted free agents in the game will find new homes beginning at 9 a.m. PT.

While Stanley Cup champions often point to drafting and developing players, along with making key trades, as the cornerstone to building a winning, there is no doubt free agency can alter an NHL franchise.

Consider the reigning NHL champion St. Louis Blues. Their captain and top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was drafted fourth overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He made the Blues roster for good for the 2010-11 season and has earned numerous all-star designations.

Rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington, a star in the playoffs and an NHL Calder Trophy finalist for Rookie of the Year, was selected 88th overall in the 2011 Draft. Ryan O'Relly, the Conn Smythe MVP of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, was acquired in a trade with Buffalo last July 1.

The O'Reilly trade made headlines on Free Agency Day/Canada Day. Yet, the Blues July 1 signing of David Perron, a forward who returned to St. Louis after playing for the Vegas Golden Knights during their inaugural season, turned out to be a huge move too. Perron notched seven goals and nine assists during the Blues' run to the title.

St. Louis native and long-time NHL veteran Patrick Maroon also signed as a free agent with his hometown club July 9. He scored the series -winning goal double overtime of Game 7 versus the Dallas Stars, advancing the Blues to the Western Conference Final.

When the phone calls among players, agents and NHL general manager commence Monday morning, some big names will be in play. One of the league's top goalies, Sergei Bobrovsky, is reportedly getting courted by the New York Islanders, who are looking at the move as a way to get deeper into the playoffs, and Florida Panthers, who have made their intent to spend to the cap and stock a playoff-ready roster for new head coach Joel Quenneville very clear.

Artemi Panarin, who was Bobrovsky's teammate in Columbus, is another top unrestricted free agent being courted by teams looking to sign the high-scoring forward. Known affectionately as "Bread Man," Panarin has averaged just under a point-per-game throughout his four NHL seasons, notching 320 points (116 goals and 224 assists) in 322 career games played.

The New York Rangers and the Panthers (Quenneville coached Panarin for two seasons in Chicago) have been identified as major suitors in the media, but Rangers GM Jeff Gorton and Panthers GM Dale Tallon will find out their fate on Monday along with the rest of the hockey world.

Nashville, which cleared salary cap by trading all-star defenseman P.K. Subban during the 2019 Draft, is considered a front-runner for yet a third big-name free agent, center Matt Duchene. Duchene has also visited with Montreal Canadiens officials.

Two veteran stars with West Coast ties, Anaheim's Corey Perry and San Jose's Joe Pavelski, will be looking for new teams come Monday, while goaltenders Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, who played a key part in the Carolina Hurricanes run to the Eastern Conference Final, could also move to other clubs. All four will likely be bargains for their new teams in terms of the hit on salary cap per season and length of contract.

In fact, many hockey insiders call NHL Free Agency the "silly season" because some teams are overeager to spend both on yearly salary and term of contract. The rise of hockey analytics is leading to progressively more prudent spending on free agents, but there is likely more than one franchise willing to make a big splash this coming week. Fans can see it all unfold beginning Monday July 1 at 9 a.m. PT.

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