One of the more interesting teams to watch this offseason has been the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have two of the biggest 2019 unrestricted free agents heading into their final season under contract. Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are both elite talents still in their prime, but after the former told the Blue Jackets that he both wasn’t ready to negotiate an extension and wanted all business matters resolved by September 13th, it seemed like the team would be forced to move on from at least one of them. Bobrovsky meanwhile was silent on any potential extension, though fans clasped clammy hands together with anxiety over the future of their starting goaltender, knowing that it would likely take a huge contract to keep him in Columbus.
In Aaron Portzline’s latest piece for The Athletic (subscription required), the venerable Blue Jackets insider gives updates on both situations, including reporting that the Blue Jackets and Bobrovsky’s agent “have not actively negotiated for some time now.” The 29-year old goaltender is expected to be demanding something approaching or eclipsing Carey Price’s eight-year $84MM contract with the Montreal Canadiens, which would put the Blue Jackets right at the top of the list of team spending in net. It’s not clear if they’re willing to do something like that, especially if they want any chance at bringing Panarin back into the fold.
Bobrovsky though isn’t as easy to trade if he can’t be signed, as not only does he have a full no-movement clause in his contract but the Blue Jackets would be punting the goaltending position almost entirely. Though Joonas Korpisalo has shown potential in his short career, he also recorded just an .897 save percentage last season in 18 games and is by no means a guarantee to post even average numbers in a starting role. For a team looking to contend for the Stanley Cup in 2018-19, trading away a goaltender of Bobrovsky’s stature—especially for a return that would be limited because of his clause—is almost impossible.
That puts Columbus in a very difficult situation though if there is no contact between the two sides, and one that doesn’t look like it has an easy way out. For now, we’ll have to wait and see how the team navigates the next few months knowing two of their best players could be in their final season with the organization. Do they load up for one last run, or move out expiring pieces to try and build around the core of Pierre-Luc Dubois, Zach Werenski and Seth Jones?