Which means the NHL's trade deadline is closer than it is further away.
The Feb. 25 marker on the league calendar looms like a somewhat-docile elephant in the room for the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have two pending unrestricted free agents in Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky – and with those situations come key decisions for GM Jarmo Kekalainen.
As of today (Jan. 7), the Blue Jackets sit third in the Metropolitan Division with 51 points and are pacing for 100-plus points once again. The decisions revolve around the players' desire to remain in Columbus, though at this stage, most of the focus has been on Panarin and agent Dan Milstein. The prevailing thinking around the NHL says the Blue Jackets will hang on to Bobrovsky through the season and try to negotiate after the year is over, while they'd like to know more about Panarin before the deadline.
Craig Custance of The Athletic released his first "Big Board" of the trade season on Monday, and guess who sits atop the list? Yes, that would be Panarin.
And while the optics of the situation sound ominous...
As it stands right now, Columbus hasn’t been completely, 100 percent ruled out as a long-term option for Panarin. But with that said, if he wanted to stay, it sure seems risky not to engage in serious talks to make it happen. Or better yet, already have a deal done. So yeah, it still seems like he’s a goner.
It's felt for a while like Panarin's days in Columbus were numbered, but one thing: no one (including Milstein, who's done plenty of talking lately) has outwardly said Panarin will be leaving the Blue Jackets. Yet. Recently, we've heard reports from national insiders like Pierre Lebrun who said the door certainly isn't closed for Panarin in Columbus, which is a feeling shared by some folks close to the organization.
Does that mean there's optimism surrounding the Blue Jackets' chances to sign Panarin? Not quite. But it's not doom and gloom by any means, and according to Milstein, Panarin is enjoying himself in Columbus right now as the team has its sights set on a third straight playoff berth, and – gasp! – its first-ever playoff series win.
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