With the NHL’s Feb. 25 trade deadline only weeks away, the biggest potential name floating above the frenzy remains in limbo. Fifty-one games into his second season in Columbus, Artemi Panarin has the Blue Jackets faithful on edge, as questions remain about whether the club will keep their star winger or ship him out at the deadline if it becomes clear he won’t sign an extension.
Panarin opened up about the situation to reporters in Columbus Friday, shedding light on his perspective going into the season’s home stretch and reiterating his desire to test free agency.
“I want to see what happens in the summer, and if I have better options,” Panarin said, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline. “I’m ready for that situation. I know in the summer how hard that will be for me. I’m ready. Still positive.”
The 27-year-old seemed hesitant when asked if he’d consider signing a new deal with the Blue Jackets in the off-season. Wrote Portzline of the exchange:
…the suggestion that Panarin could circle back and re-sign with the Blue Jackets this summer via free agency prompted Panarin to grin, and then laugh.
“Yeah, but … ” he said. And then he laughed again awkwardly.
“Ahh, I don’t know. I don’t know. Yeah, (the Blue Jackets) have a chance, but … we’ll see what happens in the summer. I still want to consider the season and help the team win the Stanley Cup.”
While it’s unclear where Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen stands in regards to wanting to keep Panarin in the fold, others in the city have made it more clear, particularly by way of a billboard aimed at wooing the winger into staying. Though Panarin said he appreciates the city’s support, he’s still interested in trying to find the best long-term fit for next season and beyond.
“It’s amazing. I feel really good after that. I say it’s harder for me to keep talking about my free agency because I see how people want me to stay in Columbus, and it’s harder.” Panarin said.
“But it’s my life. We only have one life and I want to, like … it’s 10 per cent of my life, seven or eight years, you know? I want to stay happy every day and I want to see more options.”
Far and away the biggest star among the Blue Jackets’ forward corps — Panarin currently leads the club in scoring with 60 points through 51 games, and did so last season with a career-best 82-point effort — conventional wisdom suggests the club would be unwise to continue the rest of the season with Panarin on the roster and possibly lose him for nothing in the off-season. However, with Columbus currently sitting third in the Metropolitan Division, there’s also the option of keeping him in the fold to try to make one last run at a deep playoff run.
For his part, Panarin said he’s open to either option, but the decision doesn’t rest with him.
“If Jarmo trades me, it’s, ‘Get working!’” Panarin said, according to Portzline. “That’s it. I understand his business, because (Chicago GM) Stan Bowman didn’t ask me (in 2017), he just trade me. Right now, I’m not in control, I’m still just hockey player. That’s not my job. That’s for Jarmo, but if he still keeps me I play hard. That’s it.”
While much speculation has circulated about where Panarin wants to be in 2019-20, the winger said he doesn’t have any specific destinations in mind.
“Seriously guys, I don’t have a team. Not one team where I want to go. But I have many teams. We’ll see what happens in the summer, but right now I don’t know what I want,” he said.
After firing agent Daniel Milstein Friday and bringing in Paul Theofanous — agent for fellow Blue Jackets impending UFA Sergei Bobrovsky — some wondered if Panarin is looking to either sign somewhere alongside his countryman, or angle for a trade to the same club. Panarin said that isn’t part of the plan.
“Interesting situation. I really like (Bobrovsky) and we’re big friends right now. But we have two different lives.”
The Blue Jackets still have more than two weeks before they have to make a decision. However, significant trades have already started to drop in the East, with rivals like Toronto and Pittsburgh recently dealing to try to beef up their squads — moves that likely put pressure on Columbus to decide sooner rather than later whether they have a strong enough chance at a run to roll the dice on keeping Panarin.