Just looking at the standings, the Columbus Blue Jackets should be no-doubt buyers around the trade deadline considering they’re second in the Metro Division as the bye week hits.
Neither has been interested in negotiating contract extensions yet, though Panarin was going to meet with his agent in January to discuss their plan. The outlook for keeping Bobrovsky was always the more bleak of the two, with the goalie only saying “we’ll see” in regards to staying with Columbus. The goalie also reportedly missed at least one meeting with GM Jarmo Kekalainen over the summer.
With the trade deadline a little more than a month away, Kekalainen is facing the difficult choice of trading one or both players, or throwing caution to the wind and keeping them for one last big push for the Cup. In both scenarios the Blue Jackets could still be aggressive buyers at the deadline, though, and should not be expected to take any deliberate steps back.
“We’re going to get some answers and then we’re going to have to make decisions,” Kekalainen told Columbus’ website. “They’re obviously two very talented players, two guys that have been a big part of our success, so that makes it a little bit more intriguing from the outside and people are curious to see how all of this is going to play out.
“But we will do what we need to do, do our best to convince them that they’d like to be part of our future for a long time as a Blue Jacket in Columbus, and if that doesn’t happen, then we’re going to have to make decisions. That’s what we’ve said all along. I don’t think there’s anything tricky about it. You just try to handle it professionally, with class, as we always do, and if we have to make hard decisions, we’ll make them.”
After a 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay two weeks ago, Bobrovsky was unofficially suspended one game by the team and since returning has been in net just twice in five games. While he allowed seven goals in those two appearances against the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild, backup Joonas Korpisalo has earned two wins and posted a .943 save percentage in his three games.
Last week Bobrovsky was asked to address a report that he would waive his no-trade clause prior to the Feb. 25 deadline.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” he said. “I don’t want to make comments about that.”
While the Blue Jackets do at least have one young goalie pushing Bobrovsky, their depth at left wing would be hurt if Panarin leaves over the summer. Trading him in-season would take the highest-scorer off the roster, which would be a tough move for this team to swallow without getting some immediate help back.
But the GM doesn’t seem worried by any of this. Pierre-Luc Dubois was viewed as a head-scratcher of a pick at No. 3 overall in 2016, but has emerged as a key player on the league’s most quietly dominant line. Right winger Cam Atkinson is on the verge of hitting 30 goals for the second time, while Seth Jones and Zach Werenski gives Columbus a well-rounded top pair on the blue line.
There are some other good pieces to build around here and, assuming the GM would add NHL talent if he does trade Panarin or Bobrovsky, it’s conceivable they could push on just as strong.
“I feel great about our core, and it’s only going to get better,” Kekalainen said. “I’ve said it many times, we had 108 points in the regular season before Artemi Panarin arrived. That’s not to slight Artemi at all. We love him, he’s a great player and he makes our team better, and if for some reason he doesn’t want to stay here we’ll move along and we’ll be a strong team in the future as well. We hope he stays. We’ll do our best to convince him and we’ll see what happens.
“We’ll do our best and that’s all we can do, and there’s nothing more we can do. Whatever they decide, we’ll move along and life goes on.”