Artemi Panarin did not have to imagine what he might look like in a New York Rangers uniform.
His likeness in Rangers blue adorned the giant video screens at Madison Square Garden with the message “Welcome Artemi” a full four days before he signed with the team.
“There was a moment where I just sat down for 10 minutes and really thought about it,” Panarin said, “and my heart told me that New York would be the better place for me.”
Free agency in the NHL this season had surprises, as it always does, and there was a major factor that went somewhat under the radar: The post-draft “interview window” for teams to talk with free agent targets was the longest in its short history. It opened June 23 and went right up until the signing period opened July 1, giving it the biggest impact since the window was added to the league calendar in 2014.
Some executives hated it, but the extended chance to wine and dine played a big role in a number of deals — from the Dallas Stars landing veterans Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry to the New York Islanders moving on from standout goalie Robin Lehner.
“It was a long week,” Perry said. “There was a lot of phone calls and just feeling out teams and…