John Tavares is no longer a member of the New York Islanders, and in leaving the Metropolitan Division, he's made life a bit easier for the Blue Jackets.
But in leaving, he also sent a message loud and clear to management and ownership of the 31 franchises around the NHL: if a player, no matter how loyal, wants to leave a city, he will eventually have the opportunity to do so.
And Blue Jackets management surely spent time on Sunday considering the same apocalyptic scenario of losing their star winger, Artemi Panarin, for nothing.
It's a tricky proposition that will be covered ad nauseam until a resolution comes (or doesn't). Trading Panarin now or before the trade deadline would likely result in a decent haul of draft picks and prospects that may or may not turn into something.
But Columbus is in win-now mode: With a star goalie still in his prime, a mobile defense that is among the best in the NHL, and several young studs on team-friendly entry-level contracts (Pierre-Luc Dubois and Zach Werenski, especially), this team isn't searching for a deal that will help them in 3-5 years while hurting them now.
Trading Panarin at the deadline would also be an option, but a seriously flawed one.
For one, if Columbus is having a good year and looks to be on the brink of the playoffs, trading your best offensive player (by a country mile, I'd add) would be disastrous, and would imply both to the fan base and the team that they will no longer be contenders this year. Trading him at the deadline would also likely fetch less of a return, since whatever team acquiring him would only be guaranteed a handful of games, plus the playoffs, before Panarin could leave as an unrestricted free agent (UFA).
Either of those scenarios would be welcomed over the thought of losing Panarin for no return at all. Of course, we won't know if they make the right decision until after the fact, if at all (assuming he doesn't re-sign).
Tavares, like Panarin, is well within his rights to leave as a UFA. Though not everyone will like a decision, the fact that Tavares hadn't signed an extension in the past year was basically enough evidence that he was, at best, unlikely to re-sign. In that case, Islanders management is largely to blame.
From a NY Post article from March, Larry Brooks said as much:
..."If Tavares truly has not given ownership reason beyond expectation of blind loyalty to believe that he will re-up, then ownership and Snow were derelict in not advising the captain he would be shopped and most likely traded at the deadline absent his signature on the dotted line of an extension."
Another option would be to keep Panarin on the roster through next season, and work to convince him that it's a good situation, both on and off the ice. Perhaps a successful regular season followed by a long playoff run with the youngest team in the NHL would be the best way to demonstrate to Panarin why he should stay. But that's obviously a huge gamble.
If Panarin ultimately leaves Columbus, there will be no best-case scenario. His departure will almost certainly make the Blue Jackets a worse team in both the short and long term. Trading him during the season, or certainly at the deadline, won't fetch fair value.
But on Sunday, Islanders management learned the hard way that getting something – anything – in return for Tavares would have been much preferred. Rest assured that Columbus management took note of what a worst-case scenario would look like on Sunday.