After extending their front office and reportedly being close on a new deal with head coach John Tortorella, many are wondering why the Columbus Blue Jackets haven’t placed the same focus on resolving the impending free agency of stars Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. Blue Jackets fans would prefer both sign long-term, but if they depart, the team must get something in return. GM Jarmo Kekalainen knows this and has to be open to moving either player if the right offer presents itself.
As such, Kekalainen told NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti that he couldn’t commit to either phenom being on the Opening Night roster next month:
I can’t. In this business, there’s always talks between the general managers whether you’ve got pending free agents or not. We talk regularly. Sometimes there’s trades. So I’m not speculating on them. I’m just saying we talk all the time, so I wouldn’t say about any player whether they’re a pending free agent or not that they’ll be on our team in October because anything can happen between now and Oct. 3… I think we have to make some decisions based on where it goes at the appropriate time. If we can’t work out a contract, then we’ll have to make some decisions. I wouldn’t say they’re just going to stay and ride out into the sunset… Where we’re at with our team, we have to make some decisions and we’re hopeful we can get contracts done. If not, we’ll have to make some decisions… We want to keep them and we haven’t been able to be successful yet in extending their contracts, but we’re still optimistic we can get things done and we feel they can be a huge part of our team in the future. We’re going to have a good team into the future and hopefully they want to be part of it. That’s our mindset right now, to keep working at it… We want to have them here as long as we can, both of them. They are huge parts of our team. I don’t think anybody understands how big a role they play on our team. It is what it is. They have that right within their contract to do that, so you can’t blame a guy for doing that. Hopefully our season doesn’t revolve around that. I think that would be a shame.
This may not be what Columbus fans were hoping to hear, especially before the season has even begun. The team has until next July 1st to sign both players, who will otherwise be highlights of the summer market, and has more than seven months until the NHL Trade Deadline to figure out a trade. While they may get a superior return early on, it’s hard to imagine that the team will be as successful in 2018-19 if either player was absent for the whole campaign.