Bobrovsky out again as Blue Jackets face Oilers

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One of the more intriguing aspects of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ late-season push to make the playoffs has been the handful of games in which they have not only rested starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, but have not even dressed him.

Thursday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers will be another one of those games as he will once again not be available.

In the words of head coach John Tortorella, via Blue Jackets insider Jeff Svoboda, it is because “he’s nicked.”

Joonas Korpisalo will get the start with Keith Kinkaid serving as the backup.

There were was even more intrigue to this situation on Thursday when Kinkaid was briefly shaken up in practice following a collision with 6-3, 220-pound forward Josh Anderson, but he seems to be okay and available for backup duties on Thursday.

This will be the third time over the past month that Bobrovsky has not dressed for a game, having also been scratched against the Pittsburgh Penguins back on March 7 in what was at the time a massive game, and then again one week later against the Boston Bruins. The explanation for the scratch against Pittsburgh was so they could rest him and allow him to work on his game (he returned to start one night later at home against the same Penguins team), while the Boston scratch came just one night after he stopped 46 shots in a shutout win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

All of it together leads to a lot of speculation and questions.

Has he been “nicked” up all this time? Does that explain why the Blue Jackets felt the need to trade for Kinkaid and willingly carry three NHL caliber goalies at this point in the season? Does it help explain why Bobrovsky’s performance has dropped off this much for the season as a whole?  Or did they just simply want to keep all of their goalies fresh and give themselves some added depth? Maybe all of the above?

These are questions we probably will not get clear answers to until the end of the season (if at all), but there is definitely a lot to take in here.

Bobrovsky’s .909 save percentage is one of the worst marks of his NHL career and comes during a year in which he is playing for a big contract this summer.

He has been better lately with a .945 save percentage in his past six starts, winning four of them.

The Blue Jackets enter the night with only a one-point lead over the Montreal Canadiens for the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference and are just 5-6-1 in 12 games since the NHL trade deadline when they added Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid, and Kinkaid in an effort to make one more big run while they still have Artemi Panarin and Bobrovsky on the roster.

Given how much the Oilers have struggled lately and how tight the playoff race is, these are two points the Blue Jackets simply have to get no matter who their goalie is.

Related: Blue Jackets need to take advantage of schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Karlsson, Panarin, Bobrovsky can close strong and cash in

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Many NHL teams have plenty to play for down the final stretch of the regular season, trying to get in the playoffs or to improve their positioning, before 16 teams compete for the Stanley Cup.

Some players have a lot at stake, too.

Erik Karlsson, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are a few of the potential free agents in the league with a chance to close strong and cash in by re-signing with their teams or on the open market.

The top trio of stars and some other standouts with a lot to gain financially when the season is finished, if not sooner:

KARLSSON

The San Jose Sharks acquired the two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman from Ottawa before the season started, hoping they would have him for more than a year. To keep Karlsson off the market as an unrestricted free agent, San Jose may have to at least match the eight-year, $88 million deal the Los Angeles Kings gave defenseman Drew Doughty to stay last summer.

PANARIN

Dynamic scorers like the Russian winger rarely are available in free agency and a team that wants to spend a lot of money over many years may be able to land an 80-point scorer. Panarin has already said he wants to see if there are better options in the summer than staying with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are simply hoping he helps them win at least a postseason series for the first time.

BOBROVSKY

Big-time goaltenders, like the two-time Vezina Trophy winner, usually stay with their teams and off the market. Like his teammate and fellow countryman, the 30-year-old Bobrovsky will probably want to make the most of his opportunity to make as much money as he can with his next deal while being at or near the prime or his career.

Matt Duchene

It was a good time for the center, and his bank account, to have one of the best years of his career. He’s averaging more than a point per game this season, starting with Ottawa, before being dealt to Columbus . If Panarin and Bobrovsky appear to be leaving in free agency after the season, the Blue Jackets may give the 28-year-old Duchene a lot to stay before the market opens.

Jeff Skinner

The center has a shot to surpass the 63 points he has reached twice before the team he plays for, the Buffalo Sabres, are relegated to watching the postseason for an eighth straight season. The Sabres want to re-sign Skinner, but he might be willing to take a seven-year deal – instead of the eight he can get to stay – and join a Stanley Cup contender.

Jake Gardiner

He has been out for nearly a month with a back injury, but barring it lingering into the playoffs to cast doubt on his long-term health, one of the best defensemen available will be paid well to stay in Toronto or to go play for another team.

Wayne Simmonds

The winger has not produced much offensively with Nashville, which acquired him from Philadelphia, and yet he will have a chance to make a lasting impression when it matters most in the playoffs. Simmonds has a rare combination of scoring ability, toughness and durability.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

There is an excellent group of players eligible to be restricted free agents, including: forwards Mikko Rantanen, William Karlsson, Brayden Point, Mitch Marner, Sebastian Aho and Matthew Tkachuk along with defensemen Jacob Trouba and Zach Werenski. Teams, though, rarely extend offer sheets to other franchise’s restricted free agents as Philadelphia did in 2012 with a $110 million, 14-year deal for Shea Weber, only to have the Predators match it.

Package deal? Panarin makes switch to Bobrovsky’s agent

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We have 17 days until the 2019 NHL trade deadline and the future of Artemi Panarin in Columbus remains cloudy.

Will the Blue Jackets trade him and/or goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, thereby allowing the team to get assets in return as opposed to watching them walk for nothing when they become unrestricted free agents on July 1?

Will general manager Jarmo Kekalainen keep one or both and value winning a playoff series for the first time in franchise history over whatever unknown futures he’d receive back in a trade?

Plenty of questions left to be answered, but for now the only news is that Panarin has decided to switch agents, as first reported by NHL Network’s Kevin Weekes, from Dan Milstein of Gold Star Hockey to Paul Theofanous of TMI, LLC. Panarin switched to Milstein in Jan. 2017 citing a need to have representation that can communicate in Russian.

The interesting wrinkle here is that Theofanous also represents Bobrovsky, so those rumors that the two Russians could be a package deal either at the trade deadline (Bob does have a no-mov clause) or come free agency will only intensify. It’s already out there that some believe the Florida Panthers could pursue both as many expect them to be aggressive in the off-season in order to become a playoff team next season. That’s just one option.

Even with the offer of free vodka, earlier this month Milstein, on behalf of Panarin, announced that his client wouldn’t be discussing his future in-season and any negotiations would have to take place in the summer. That put his immediate future in Columbus in doubt and left questions as to what the Blue Jackets will do going forward, especially as they hold the third spot in the Metropolitan Division and are in striking distance of the division lead.

“If we have to make a hard decision, we will,” Kekalainen said the day after the Panarin announcement. “We like Artemi and would like to keep him, and it’s his right to go into free agency. If he chooses to do so, we’ll be knocking on his door July 1, but we’re going to go about our business here and try to win hockey games and make the playoffs and go as deep as possible this spring, too.”

It will be fascinating to see how this all unfolds leading into the trade deadline and then once we get to free agency in July as it’s clear both players will test the market.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blue Jackets GM on trade deadline: ‘If we have to make a hard decision, we will’

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The morning after Artemi Panarin’s agent announced that his client wants to focus on this season and will deal with his future in the summer, it was status quo for Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.

Speaking to the media on Tuesday morning, the GM said that Panarin’s decision changes “nothing” about the organization’s decision-making process regarding the star forward’s future.

“We’ve said all along we’re going to make hard decisions if we have to, but our focus is on getting our team better and making it as competitive as possible for this spring but also into the future obviously,” said Kekalainen. “If we have to make a hard decision, we will. We like Artemi and would like to keep him, and it’s his right to go into free agency. If he chooses to do so, we’ll be knocking on his door July 1, but we’re going to go about our business here and try to win hockey games and make the playoffs and go as deep as possible this spring, too.”

Panarin’s agent, Dan Milstein, Tweeted out a statement Monday night saying the team had been notified of the decision.

Now the ball is in Kekalainen’s court.

It’d almost be easier for the Blue Jackets’ GM if the team was far out of the playoff picture. Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky can both become unrestricted free agents this summer and there’s been no indication that either player will re-sign in Columbus. If the playoffs weren’t a possibility, then no doubt both would be gone by the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline.

The Blue Jackets currently sit third in the Metropolitan Division, four points behind the New York Islanders. Head coach John Tortorella said Tuesday there was a discussion about this topic with the players and he’s been proud of his team the way they’ve performed with all this hanging above the organization.

“We just go about our business,” Tortorella said. “As I’ve said all along, this has been around us all year long. We get ready to play Buffalo tonight. I know he’s going to be ready to play.”

So how does Kekalainen resolve this? That will depend on who’s calling and what they’re offering. Since both players would be possible rentals for an inquiring team, the return for Columbus likely wouldn’t include any players that could help them now as they chase a playoff spot and eye a deep run in the spring.

It will be a delicate balance for Kekalainen as his phone, which he said was ringing “off the hook” Tuesday, will keep him busy for the next four weeks.

“I think we’re going to have to weigh the decisions in front of us as far as what is out there in the marketplace,” said Kekalainen. “That’s the only answer that I’m going to be able to give you. I’ve made the example from last year when we had offers for Jack Johnson, a pending UFA, and Matt Calvert. We decided to keep them because we thought that was the best thing for our team in the short term, and the long-term benefits to trading them weren’t good enough. It’s the same way in these situations.”

MORE: Panarin won’t discuss future with Blue Jackets until after season

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blue Jackets winning despite drama surrounding biggest stars

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By Mitch Stacy (AP Sports Writer)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Drama stemming from the uncertain future of two of the team’s biggest stars has simmered in the background for half a season, but the Columbus Blue Jackets don’t seem all that bothered.

With a bye week bumping up against the All-Star weekend, most of the Blue Jackets enjoyed a long midseason break, knowing changes could soon be coming that will alter the team’s lineup and identity.

Two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and winger Artemi Panarin will be unrestricted free agents after the season and thus far have refused to sign extensions. At least one of Russian stars could be dealt by the Feb. 25 trade deadline.

Despite the inner tumult and an anemic power play, the Blue Jackets are winning. They entered the break 28-17-3, on track for a 100-point season and elbowing for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with the New York Islanders, Washington and Pittsburgh. After dropping a back-to-back before the bye week, Columbus won five of its last eight and put together separate winning streaks of four and five games since mid-December.

”They can handle a lot of things,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen told BlueJackets.com. ”They can handle things internally, they can handle things face to face, and they take the message the right way and move along. That speaks well for the leadership inside the locker room and also the character of the players in the room.”

Columbus returns to action at home Tuesday against Buffalo.

The 30-year-old Bobrovsky, a fan favorite in his seventh season in Columbus , wants more money than the team is willing to pay for a multiyear deal. His contract has a no-move clause he would have to waive to be traded and he’s declined to say whether he would be willing to do so.

”Bob,” who will make $7.4 million this year, has been inconsistent (19-14) and not played to the level that earned him honors as the NHL’s top goalie after the 2012-13 and 2016-17 seasons. He received a high-profile rebuke from the team and was suspended for a game for an unspecified incident after coach John Tortorella pulled him in the third period of a 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Jan. 8. Although Bobrovsky apologized to the team, it’s not likely the situation helped him want to stay.

Tortorella has acknowledged that he’s given Bobrovsky’s backup, Joonas Korpisalo, more playing time this season because of the uncertainty over Bob’s future. The 24-year-old Finn has responded with a 9-3 record and a goals-against average of 2.95, not much worse than Bobrovsky’s 2.91. ”Korpi” already has played in more games than in all of last season.

”I was prepared for that,” Bobrovsky said of the additional starts for his backup. ”Every season brings some challenges, it doesn’t matter what kind of situation. There will be tough times, there will be fun times. It’s a long season.”

Panarin, 27, was traded to Columbus before last season and added critical scoring punch, setting career and franchise highs in points (27) and assists (55). “Bread” is playing his best hockey lately and is on track for a 100-point season. Linemates Cam Atkinson and Pierre Luc-Dubois have been terrific, too.

Panarin gives few interviews in English but seems unfazed by all the noise over his contract situation. He is not sure he wants to be in Columbus for the long haul.

”Every guy is different,” Atkinson said. ”Every guy goes through different personal experiences. He’s playing really well for us.”

A couple of billboards have gone up in Columbus in hopes of persuading Panarin to stay, including one from a distillery offering him free vodka for life if he re-signs with the Blue Jackets. He has had some fun with the offers on social media but hasn’t tipped his hand on which way he is leaning.

”I don’t think he knows what he’s going to do,” Tortorella said. ”But we can’t do anything about that. We’ve just got to keep going about our business.”

Captain Nick Foligno, who missed four games recently when his 5-year-old daughter had heart surgery, said the players’ approach to each game has not been affected by all the other stuff swirling around.

”It hasn’t been that strange for us,” he said. ”For us, it really hasn’t been any different. We have a job to do. Whoever is in the lineup doesn’t change that.”

For power play help, Columbus is looking to newly minted Hockey Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis, who has been hired as a special teams consultant. St. Louis will be reunited with Tortorella, who coached him as part of the 2004 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Follow Mitch Stacy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mitchstacy