One of the most interesting emerging storylines of this offseason has been the future of Columbus Blue Jackets forward Artemi Panarin. The 26-year old forward told the team he was not interested in signing a long-term extension right away, instead needing some time to decide where he wants play and live for the next several years. Today, Panarin met with Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen in Nice, France to discuss the situation, but didn’t come out with a resolution. Aaron Portzline of The Athletic spoke with Panarin’s agent Dan Milstein after the meeting, who told him there was still “no contract progress at this time.” Igor Eronko of Sport-Express was also told that Panarin is still not willing to sign a long-term deal right now, despite the 45-minute meeting.
Panarin’s contract talks are such a big story in the NHL because there are some who believe the Blue Jackets would consider trading their superstar if they can’t get the security of an extension over the next few months. If it becomes clear that he is going to head to unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2019, there is likely an urgency to receive something of value for him before long. The recent departure of John Tavares from New York likely only strengthens the idea of trading Panarin, as the Islanders weren’t able to cash in on their expiring asset, believing that he would eventually re-sign. A Panarin trade would demand a huge return for the Blue Jackets after another outstanding season in which he recorded 82 points in 81 games and found some nice chemistry with Pierre-Luc Dubois.
To be clear, there is no guarantee that Panarin won’t eventually sign with the Blue Jackets. Milstein has made it clear in the past that his client loves the Columbus organization and has been treated extremely well during his time there, but just isn’t currently willing to commit to living there for the next huge chunk of his career. That’s his right as a pending unrestricted free agent, and should he hit the market he’ll have no shortage of suitors willing to spend big on him. Panarin is a legitimate offensive superstar, able to create scoring almost at will and proved this season that he can drive a line himself. Just as Tavares was a huge boost for the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer, Panarin could vault almost any playoff team into serious contender status. The fact is that he does that too for the Blue Jackets, making it an incredibly tough decision for Kekalainen as his team attempts to contend for the Stanley Cup this season.