Free vodka for life billboard gets Panarin’s attention

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Time will tell if the Columbus Blue Jackets will be able to convince pending free agent Artemi Panarin to stick with the team, but if nothing else, locals are getting creative to entice him.

High Bank Distillery caused a stir with a billboard offering free vodka for life if Panarin re-signed with the Blue Jackets, even getting agent Dan Millstein to offer a winking response on Tuesday.

The viral marketing campaign made such an impression that Panarin acknowledged it himself on Wednesday, including taking a photo with the billboard, which the Blue Jackets tweeted out:

Wonderful.

Panarin expressed his gratitude for the sentiments on his Instagram page with this message:

Columbus, you keep amazing me. Thank you for your brilliance. Now I have a new spot to dine at. @highbankdistillery ?????

Amusingly, High Bank Distillery is a partner with the Blue Jackets, so they’d really be backing things up if they claim to be the team’s official vodka. You have to wonder if the hashtag #StayThirstyPanarin might draw a grumble from Dos Equis and The Most Interesting Man in the World, though.

This isn’t the first time that a) Columbus sports fans did something creative to try to avoid a devastating exit or b) a local company used a free agent situation for some brilliant, mostly-free publicity.

As this SBNation deep dive recounts, a #SavetheCrew campaign helped keep MLS team the Columbus Crew from relocating.

A starchier, more hockey-related connection happened when “The Bagel Boss” offered John Tavares bagels for life (every morning, apparently) to stick with the New York Islanders, then brilliantly offered bagels for Tavares jerseys once he passed. There were even T-shirts.

To Columbus’ credit, the campaign to keep Panarin around hasn’t been bread-related, nor has Panera Bread been involved. Although there’s time.

This could end up merely being a cute memory before Panarin leaves, yet either way, it’s a boon for High Bank, and they’re reveling in the attention.

That got us to thinking, actually: what are some other silly genius marketing strategies for some of the biggest could-be unrestricted free agents? Let’s dish out some free advice, then. Absolutely share your ideas in the comments, too.

(No RFAs, which is why you won’t see #MargarineforMarner.)

Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators: Let’s begin with a bummer. Marble Slab seems to dominate the elaborate ice cream preparation genre in Ottawa, so we can’t go with “Cold Stone for Mark Stone.” This brings me great sadness.

Maybe macarons for Stone? That will have to do, because I’m still sad about the Cold Stone thing.

Matt Duchene, also Ottawa Senators: With that loss accounted for, how about free Beavertails, the increasingly popular pastry? You could probably incorporate “Don’t leave” plus “Beave(r),” but be careful with that.

Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks: Back in 2015, Puck Daddy (including PHT’s own Sean Leahy!) covered favorite junk foods, with Karlsson mentioning pizza as a favorite in a nondescript way.

A different Shark’s name works better for that foodstuff, however, so why not celebrate Karlsson’s incredible 14-game assist/point streak by going with free apple fritters or apple pie for life? Maybe anything apple-related on a business’s menu, including hard cider?

Joe Pavelski, also San Jose Sharks: Going to venture a guess that Sharks fans no longer call the American forward “Joe Pa,” for obvious, uncomfortable reasons. But what about “Unlimited Za for Pa?”

Honestly, considering how long he’s been in San Jose, Pavelski likely has better ideas than we do.

Sergei Bobrovsky, also Columbus Blue Jackets: Things could really start to get out of control here, gang, as shishkabob is just sitting there on a plank, waiting for us to snare that low-hanging fruit.

Apparently Dublin, Ohio is only about 30 minutes from Columbus, and that’s where Wendy’s was founded. Perhaps the Blue Jackets should find out if Bob really loves their iconic spicy chicken sandwich?

Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres: Now here is where the cheese flies wonderfully.

Dinner for Skinner? Wings for a winger? Some take on “winner, chicken dinner?” OK, some of these ideas are so bad that they might actually scare Jeff Skinner off, but Buffalo really has little choice but to play into its history of chicken wing innovation.

Granted, there are other options. Via Paste, non-wing-options include sponge candy and maybe even Cheerios?

Nah, let’s go with wings.

Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs: Apologies for leaning on rhyming, but “Let Jake Eat Cake” is as irresistible as, well, cake. Bobbette & Belle seems too fancy for a hockey player, but the name is pretty amusing, so let’s get them on the case.

The Maple Leafs face a tight squeeze in trying to fit their bounty of young talent under the salary cap in 2019-20 and beyond, so free cake for Jake might be their greatest hope.

It’s unclear if any of these ideas beat free booze, but admit it: you want some wings and/or pizza now, don’t you?

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.