The Columbus Blue Jackets team that barged into the second round of the NHL playoffs before falling to Boston in Game 6 Monday night might look a lot different the next time you see it.
Three of the team's best players, winger Artemi Panarin, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, and center Matt Duchene are unrestricted free agents this summer and can sign with any team they want on July 1.
It's long been thought that Panarin and Bobrovsky will test the free agent market this summer. Duchene was assumed to be thinking similar thoughts, but he seemed to enjoy the city of Columbus and his time with the Blue Jackets, giving the faithful a glimmer of hope.
Panarin, the last Blue Jacket to leave the ice, offered up a rare quote in English following the game, even if it was only two words.
Artemi Panarin asked about a potential return to #CBJ next season: Nobody knows. Replied in English. Thru an interpreter: He feels empty right now after playoff loss.
— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) May 7, 2019
Asked whether general manager Jarmo Kekalainen's move to load up with additions – including Duchene – prior to the trade deadline will come into his thinking on whether to return, Bobrovsky was honest about the magnitude of his upcoming decision.
“It’s too early to speak about my future. We just lost a game. I have to weigh everything, every opportunity. I have to speak with my people to [weigh] everything and make a decision. It’s a big decision. It’s a lifetime decision and I don’t want to stand here and discuss that right now.”
There was a hint of past tense to Bobrovsky's answers, however.
“We went through some good times, some tough times,” the goalie said. “We’ve been together seven years, so that’s a long time. So it was special.
"I'm definitely thankful for everything I had here. I won my two Vezinas here. Right now we talk after losing in the second round against a very good team. When I just came onto the team we were just pushing, we were happy if we just made playoffs. Fans were with us all the way. I think the hockey is growing here in Columbus. It is fun to watch and it was fun to be part of."
Winger Cam Atkinson could only lament the missed opportunity this team had. “Next year, who knows what’s going to happen or who’s going to be in the locker room.”
As for Kekalainen, he made it clear where he stood on the team's uncertain future.
Jarmo Kekalainen on pending UFAs: Moving forward we want guys who are proud to be Blue Jackets, proud to be living in Columbus & loving it here. Its really important that they bleed blue ... Guys that dont want to be here good luck.
— Tom Reed (@treed1919) May 7, 2019
"We have a good team. We have a great city. We have great ownership," Kekalainen said. "I think that should convince anybody to want to stay. We have a winning team and I think we can really build on something here. If that's not enough then I don't know what is."
That has to be refreshing for Blue Jackets fans who have seen their franchise bend over backward for nearly 20 years in attempts to please players who wanted little to do with the team or the city.
Bleed blue, indeed.