Opinion: As Painful As It Will Be, The Blue Jackets Must Trade Artemi Panarin

By Dan Dukart on January 28, 2019 at 8:40 pm
Artemi Panarin celebrates his game winner in overtime against the Nashville Predators at Nationwide Arena

Russell LaBounty – USA TODAY Sports

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Artemi Panarin's days in a Blue Jackets sweater appear numbered, one way or another.

On Monday night, in a statement posted to Twitter, Dan Milstein, agent for star forward Artemi Panarin, said he's informed the team his client wants to wait until after the season to discuss his future with the team.

Is it possible that Panarin could decide to sign an extension with the Blue Jackets sometime after the team's season ends and before July 1? Sure.

Likely? No.

This puts the Blue Jackets in a really difficult position. Who knows exactly what offers would be on the table for GM Jarmo Kekalainen, but the logical – albeit painful – move is to trade Panarin.

The 2018-19 Blue Jackets roster is one of, if not the most, talented lineups assembled in Columbus in the history of the franchise. Even still, they're second in the Metropolitan Division, ironically in front of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. They're not terribly far off, but it's hard to say this team is a Stanley Cup contender as it stands today.

They have the second youngest team in the NHL, tied with the Montreal Canadiens and just fractionally away from the Edmonton Oilers. The team is flush with young, dynamic players at many of the critical positions. Seth Jones (24) and Zach Werenski (21) are two of the best defensemen in the NHL. Pierre-Luc Dubois (20) has exceeded expectations and is already an established first-line center. 

In the prospect pipeline, the Blue Jackets are good but not great. A Panarin trade would (or at least, should) add high-caliber prospects to the organization. Liam Foudy (18) and Alexandre Texier (19) are exciting forwards that are built for the modern NHL. Emil Bemstrom (19) and Jonathan Davidsson (21) could conceivably make the roster as early as next year. Vladislav Gavrikov (23) is expected to come to North America and make the Blue Jackets next season and is expected to instantly help the defense. Elvis Merzlikins (24) could be a star goaltender. 

Without a no-trade clause, Panarin can be moved to just about any contending team. In a parity-filled NHL, there are 20 teams (maybe more) that believe they're a playoff team. That should aid Kekalainen. 

Losing Panarin for no return would be a devastating blow to a franchise that's been getting kicked in the teeth for nearly 20 years. I fully understand that trading him for prospects would signal a white flag to the locker room (and the fan base). However, that assumes that moving Panarin is the only bullet in Kekalainen's holster, and, as the Blue Jackets are probably a playoff team even without the star Russian winger, a one-off trade of Panarin feels unlikely. 

For the Blue Jackets, option A – to sign Panarin – seems less likely now than ever. While keeping him through a playoff push would be emotionally satisfying, it's more prudent to acquire high-end assets and continue building: brick by brick, as John Davidson preached, toward a better tomorrow. 

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