As much as Columbus Blue Jackets fans may want to be critical of star forward Artemi Panarin for his reluctance to sign a contract extension, at least give him credit for being honest and forthcoming in the process. Panarin has been consistent and open in his feelings about in-season negotiations and his impending free agency and again re-iterated his point today. Agent Dan Milstein released this statement on Panarin’s behalf:
We have informed the team that we are willing to discuss Artemi’s future after the season. Our priority now is to focus on the rest of the season, trying to win a Stanley Cup for the Columbus Blue Jackets and their fans.
Milstein added that there will be no further comment from the player’s side on negotiations this season, as they have made the definitive call to leave contract talks for the off-season. Panarin is well within his rights to want to solely focus on his game and the Blue Jackets’ stretch run this season and previous comments have made it clear that he does enjoy playing for Columbus and is determined to help the team succeed in the postseason. However, it may be difficult for him to accomplish that if he is traded to a different team. That is the risk that he has taken and the choice the team must evaluate over the next month leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline. Although the Blue Jackets look to be playoff-bound again, the idea of both Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky walking in free agency and leaving Columbus with nothing to show for it is daunting for GM Jarmo Kekalainen and company. Kekalainen declined to comment on Panarin’s announcement this evening, but is likely to speak about the topic soon. It would not be a surprise to see the Blue Jackets at least listen to offers for Panarin, but they face a tough decision of whether to sell off their top scorer and virtually sabotage their own title hopes or potentially lose him in the off-season.
For what it’s worth, Panarin’s statement tonight nor any of his previous remarks ever expressed that he was unwilling to re-sign in Columbus. He reportedly has been happy during his time with the team and has exceeded his production from his Chicago Blackhawks days. Panarin set a career high with 82 points last season and is currently on pace for 95 points this season. Panarin has previously stated that he enjoys playing with several of his teammates, namely young center Pierre-Luc Dubois, and feels that Columbus is built to last. Despite rumors that he is focused on larger, coastal cities, the Blue Jackets are a young, talented team that has just as good a chance of signing Panarin this summer as anyone. Columbus also has the cap space moving forward to meet the market demands for Panarin, the enormity of which could rule out many other suitors. Panarin’s stance of not negotiating in-season should still leave weeks for exclusive negotiation following Columbus’ postseason exit as well, that is unless he succeeds in his goal of leading the team to the Stanley Cup final.
Panarin, PHR’s No. 2-ranked free agent, will be a hot commodity if he hits the open market and the Blue Jackets know that they would hardly be the only team in pursuit. The question now is whether they think they can re-sign him after the season or whether they want to try to win without him during the season. Today’s announcement certainly doesn’t help the odds that Panarin remains with Columbus, but until a decision is actually made by one side or the other, he remains in the Blue Jackets’ plans this year and beyond.