Predicting homes for the most intriguing unrestricted free agents
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NHL free agents can officially sign with new teams as of Monday at 12 p.m. ET. With the leadup switching from days to hours, theScore's making educated guesses on the landing spots for this year's most intriguing unrestricted free agents. Here we go:

Artemi Panarin

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Finally, after almost a calendar year of speculation, Panarin's long-term NHL home will be determined in the coming days. Panarin, who turns 28 in October, will likely command seven years and an annual salary in the $11 million-$12 million range. The dynamic playmaking Russian is the shiny prize of the 2019 UFA class.

Florida appears to be the front-runner here - and why not? General manager Dale Tallon's pitch is pretty stellar: a young core led by Aleksander Barkov, a familiar coach in Joel Quenneville, sunny coastal weather, anonymity around town, and ownership willing to spend. These aren't your older brother's Panthers.

The Rangers and Islanders are second-tier favorites in the Panarin sweepstakes, while the Avalanche are believed to be a third-tier option. As expected, the Blue Jackets don't have a horse in this race, despite the team and Panarin advancing to the franchise's first-ever second-round appearance.

Prediction: Panthers

Confidence level: 8.5/10

Joe Pavelski

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A few months back, who saw Pavelski, one of the faces of the Sharks franchise, moving on from San Jose this offseason?

Well, with Erik Karlsson's massive eight-year deal finalized and second contracts for Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc on deck, GM Doug Wilson might not have enough dough to re-sign the team's captain. Pavelski, who turns 35 next month, wants fair value ($5 million-$7 million) and the big prize (a Stanley Cup). Wilson can't deliver the former, and who knows about the latter.

The Stars and Lightning have pitched Pavelski in person and check off the "contender" box, whereas the Wild and Blackhawks, two clubs in the middle of the pack, also have his ear. Several more teams surely want to be in the running, which should be no surprise. Pavelski's coming off a 38-goal campaign, can play both center and wing, and is beloved by teammates.

When there's no clear-cut favorite for the UFA's services, the tie goes to the ideal spot. The Lightning enjoy a fantastic tax situation in Florida and won 62 of 82 games last year. Sure, they didn't make it out of the first round, but there's no doubt Pavelski sees a glorious opportunity on the right wing alongside either Steven Stamkos or Brayden Point.

Prediction: Lightning

Confidence level: 5/10

Sergei Bobrovsky

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One of the offseason's rare certainties is Bobrovsky is going to get paid handsomely, no matter where he winds up. He'll be only 31 this fall, possesses enough talent to upgrade a good team to very good or a very good team to great, and plays the game's most valuable position. Don't be surprised if the two-time Vezina Trophy winner signs a seven-year, $70-million contract.

The Panthers, who welcomed elite goaltending prospect Spencer Knight into the fold at the draft before saying goodbye to the retiring Roberto Luongo, are in a period of transition between the pipes. Backup James Reimer might even be on his way out. Bobrovsky, along with his buddy Panarin, appears to be Miami-bound. The timing's right, too, as Knight could ease into the starter’s role during the back half of Bobrovsky's deal.

What's most intriguing about Bobrovsky's UFA status is not necessarily the destination - it's been more or less settled as either the Panthers or Islanders - it's the reaction to his contract details. Does the loser in that two-team pool overpay for Robin Lehner, the second-best goalie on the market? And how does Lehner's contract affect the likes of Semyon Varlamov, Mike Smith, Curtis McElhinney, and the rest of a deep-but-muddied goalie class?

Prediction: Panthers

Confidence level: 7.5/10

Anders Lee

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As Erik Karlsson and Jeff Skinner re-upped with their teams prior to the late-June window shopping period for UFAs, it felt like it was only a matter of time before Anders Lee did the same. Yet here we are ...

Lee, the Islanders' captain, continues to debate his options. The Isles are in the mix for an extension, certainly among the favorites to lock up the soon-to-be 28-year-old, but it's far from a guarantee. Supposedly not caving during negotiations thus far, GM Lou Lamoriello is tempting Lee to take his talents elsewhere. The Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, and his hometown Minnesota Wild have all been pegged as possible landing spots.

This is Lee's chance to cash in on a journey that's taken him from the 152nd overall pick in the 2009 NHL draft to 425 career games. A high-character forward who bags 50-60 points per year, he's due for a healthy annual raise from $3.75 million, perhaps doubling his yearly earnings with this new contract. The Avs have ample cap space, are on the rise, and bring him a little closer to home. Here's thinking GM Joe Sakic gets frisky and reels in Lee.

Prediction: Avalanche

Confidence level: 3/10

Jake Gardiner

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Game 7 troubles and back injury aside, Gardiner is cruising into July 1 with suitors galore and $7 million per year in his sights. He's the best left-handed defenseman on the UFA market, and after the dust settles, could end up being the highest-paid UFA blue-liner, period. Tyler Myers is Gardiner's only true contender in regards to positional bragging rights.

Gardiner has to make a key decision on location. It's big, pressure-filled Canadian market versus laidback American market. For instance, the Canucks and Canadiens are reportedly eager to at least discuss a deal, but his time in Toronto - while overall successful - may have him looking stateside.

The Wild, Panthers, and Kings are believed to be interested, and all three are relatively tame markets. The Stars, yet another low-key locale, would make a ton of sense from a hockey perspective. Gardiner, a smooth-skating puck mover, could replace former Leafs teammate Roman Polak on Dallas' second defense pairing. Can GM Jim Nill acquire both Gardiner and a forward in free agency? Would he settle for one? Strike out? Keep it locked on the Stars.

Prediction: Stars

Confidence level: 4/10

Matt Duchene

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Predators GM David Poile has telegraphed it, stating in the wake of the PK Subban trade that he's ready to bolster his forward group in a significant way. Duchene himself has dropped hints, with his links to Nashville - including a passion for country music and the purchase of a rental property in the area - no secret.

The stage is set for the Preds to win the Duchene courting war, even though the Canadiens are lurking - with Duchene meeting Habs brass earlier this week - and the Blue Jackets earning a passing glance. It's a perfect marriage between team and player - Nashville gets the No. 1 center it's coveted for several years, while the 27-year-old will both receive his big payday and join a contender after enduring his fair share of losing.

Food for thought: If the two biggest names on the UFA forward market choose Nashville (Duchene) and Florida (Panarin), do the Canadiens, Rangers, and Islanders - teams apparently jonesing for a stud forward - put away their wallets and take the L? Or do they double down on pursuing second-tier guys like Mats Zuccarello, Lee, and Pavelski and battle the Stars, Avalanche, and Wild for the best of the rest?

Prediction: Predators

Confidence level: 8.5/10

Corey Perry

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Perry is 34, dressed for 31 games last season, and the final two years of his contract were recently bought out by the Ducks. For an ex-Hart Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion, his stock is pretty low. But, given Perry's top skill is scoring goals, interest remains high. He's earned a shot at redemption.

Perry, along with Jason Spezza, Wayne Simmonds, and Dion Phaneuf - fellow UFAs who have made millions upon millions but are past their prime - can approach free agency from a unique angle. They can find a home with a contender on a cheap deal and limited role and hope a deep playoff run is on the horizon. Or, they can sign with a poor team for more money and more ice time and hope to get moved to a Cup-chasing team at the trade deadline.

Both scenarios have pros and cons. The latter route may be better on the ego. Get your money, find your mojo, go from there. Under these circumstances, the Oilers, Red Wings, or Kings would suit Perry. Considering Edmonton boasts Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, perhaps there's a fit there.

Prediction: Oilers

Confidence level: 3/10

John Matisz is theScore's national hockey writer.

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