Even if the Columbus Blue Jackets are the best team in the NHL this season – something some analytics pundits don’t think is outside the realm of possibility – the recurring story line all season will be the impending free agency of stars Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. Much has been made about the futures of these two all-world players, but now that training camp has arrived, the question is whether their fates have already been decided.
As The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline writes, Paranin did set a deadline of September 13th for all contract negotiations to be completed, stating that he would not continue negotiations in-season. That deadline has now passed. However, Portzline also notes that this ultimatum was issued not long after Panarin rejected an extension offer from the Blue Jackets. Perhaps Panarin’s deadline was more about pressuring Columbus to trade him prior to the beginning of the season than it was to come together on a new contract. Yet, GM Jarmo Kekalainen does not see it that way: “There’s no such deadline in my book. It’s July 1, 2019″.” The team clearly believes that their best plan of action is to enter the season with Panarin and see how things go, continually pushing for an extension up to or through the trade deadline.
Meanwhile, Portzline notes that Bobrovsky has spent much of his off-season alongside Panarin and there is a chance that he has rubbed off on the veteran goaltender. Negotiations with Bobrovsky have reportedly been ongoing and there is no reason to think that they won’t continue. Of course, the Blue Jackets have no plans to trade Bobrovsky and may not all year. However, Portzline also writes that Bobrovsky’s mood when speaking with the media yesterday implied that he may also be ready to walk at season’s end. Bobrovsky said “After last season, I told the situation to the management of the Blue Jackets, so they know everything. They know my plans for the season. They know my plans for the future. They know everything.” When asked if that meant that this season would be his last in Columbus, he added “We’ll see. You have to ask them.” Portzline even says that Bobrovsky briefly spoke in the past tense about his time with the team and seemed like a person whose mind was made up. It wasn’t exactly the positive note that the team and its fans wanted to begin the season with, but then again success can be the solution to many problems. A strong start to the season, and especially a strong end to the season, could convince either player to re-sign and keep the Blue Jackets trending toward being Stanley Cup contenders.
- Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle don’t foresee their impending free agency as a similar situation to that of former teammate John Tavares. Rather, both players expressed their happiness with playing for the New York Islanders when speaking with Newsday’s Andrew Gross. They also agreed that they didn’t want their contracts to be a distraction to them or the team and only hoped for a strong start to the season. Lee, 28, is a career Islander coming of the best season of his career and may be a player that new GM Lou Lamoriello and company see as a core piece moving forward. The same could go for Eberle, 28, who excelled last season after coming over from the Edmonton Oilers. Given the Islanders’ enviable salary cap flexibility and prospect depth, the team can afford to give both Lee and Eberle the contracts they want, likely long-term at $6.5MM+ AAV, if they are happy in New York. The same can’t be said for fellow impending UFA Brock Nelson, who also talked with Gross. Nelson has a long way to go to prove he is worthy of a long-term commitment from the Isles and will be given a chance to prove that. Short of a career year for the two-way center, he is likely a trade casualty in the coming season.
- Despite being included in trade rumors for the past two or three seasons now, Vancouver Canucks defenseman Alex Edler might not be going anywhere. The Athletic’s Jason Brough reports that Edler would like to re-sign with the team this season before the final year of his contract expires. He tells Brough that, were it up to him, he would never play for another NHL team. “If something can be worked out, I would love to stay here,” Edler said, “Even though we’ve had some tough years, this is kind of an exciting thing to go through. There’s change and a lot of young guys are coming in. You see how they are developing. There’s nothing now, but we’ll see. We’ll see what happens.” The veteran seems more than happy to go through the rebuild process with the Canucks and continue to be a leader in the locker room and on the blue line. In that same vein, Brough doubts that Edler will be willing to waive his full No-Trade Clause if Vancouver does look to move him for picks and prospects this year. Edler dodged a question on the subject and continued on about how much he would like to remain with the team. The 32-year-old still has plenty of gas left in the tank and perhaps refusing a trade would really prove his loyalty and earn him a short-term extension. That remains to be seen, but the status of Edler, like any prominent impending free agent, is not a story line that is going to go away this season.