In what seems like it is almost certainly discouraging news for the long-term outlook of the Columbus Blue Jackets and their fans, the agent for free-agent-to-be forward Artemi Panarin released a statement on Monday evening saying they will only be willing to discuss his future after the season concludes.
Said Panarin’s agent, Dan Millstein in a Tweet: “‘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 CBJ & their fans”. No additional comments will be made.”
While the focus being on the rest of the season and the Stanley Cup sounds good, the fact they will seemingly not be having any more contract discussions makes it seem likely, if not a given, that Panarin is determined to get to free agency and test the open market where he will be one of the top players available. If not the top player.
[Related: PHT Power Rankings: 10 people that will impact the NHL Playoff race]
This all leaves the Blue Jackets in a tough spot.
With Panarin on their roster they are a definite playoff team and are could be good enough to potentially make some noise once they get there. Especially in a metropolitan Division where the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins seem to have taken a bit of a step back this season.
If your goal is to win a championship, or at least compete for one this season, you absolutely can not trade a player like Artemi Panarin. You just can’t do it.
But you also never want to see a player as good and dynamic as him walk out the door for nothing in return, which is now a very real possibility that the Blue Jackets have to face. As if they were not already facing it before this announcement was made on Monday evening.
The other option, of course, is to take one more run at it this season and load up at the trade deadline.
Along with Panarin, starting goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is also a free agent after this season, leaving general manager Jarmo Kekalainen in what seems to be a no-win situation.
Panarin is the Blue Jackets’ leading scorer this season with 53 points (19 goals, 34 assists) in 46 games. Since entering the NHL at the start of the 2015-16 season his 286 points (in 289 games) are the seventh most in the NHL, placing him behind only Nikita Kucherov, Patrick Kane, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Blake Wheeler, and Johnny Gaudreau. He is an elite player and a game-changer, and one of the best ones the Blue Jackets franchise has ever had. This is not the type of situation you want to be in with such a player.
More: Blue Jackets winning despite drama around biggest stars
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.