Beginning this offseason, the rumblings that star forward Artemi Panarin did not want to re-sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets created the impression that a blockbuster trade was inevitable prior to the end of this season, when Panarin becomes an unrestricted free agent. That no longer appears to be the case. In the midst of another strong season for both Panarin and his team, the high-scoring winger is hoping to stay in Columbus through the end of the season, his agent, Dan Milstein, told TSN’s “Leafs Lunch” on Friday. Panarin is also reportedly opening up to the idea of an extension with the Blue Jackets.
Milstein stated that he and Panarin plan to meet over the All-Star break in late January to discuss the future. Part of that conversation will be about a potential long-term fit with the Blue Jackets. “He likes it in Columbus. They have a very good, young team…Management has been nothing but great to him. ... He wants to help the team to win the Stanley Cup,” Milstein said.
Panarin is a competitive player, and Milstein made it clear that last season’s early playoff exit bothered the all-world winger, and he hopes to lead the team deeper into the postseason this year. There is also the potential for a long-term fit in Columbus, as Milstein applauded the efforts of young center Pierre-Luc Dubois and said that Panarin has enjoyed playing alongside him this season. While Panarin leads the Jackets with 41 points, the sophomore centerman is not far behind with 32. The promise of that pairing moving forward could be a vital factor in Panarin’s decision.
However, other teams and their rosters will certainly be considered. Milstein was honest that he and Panarin will likely begin discussing his potential fits with other teams when they meet next month. Panarin, still just 27, will likely be the most sought-after forward on the free agent market if he opts to leave Columbus and could pick almost any team to play for given his unique skill set. It has previously been reported that Panarin prefers to play in a coastal metropolitan area, with many speculating that the three New York-area teams, all of whom are in comfortable salary-cap situations, are possible fits, while Boston, Florida, Carolina or one of the three California teams would also be logical landing spots. The competitive Panarin also wants a chance to win the Stanley Cup. Even though he will almost certainly sign a seven-year contract at a minimum and a lot can change in that time, teams’ recent success and talent pool moving forward will also weigh heavily on his decision. As Milstein stated, they believe that the Blue Jackets are one of those talented, young teams that will be a contender moving forward.
One thing that will not affect Panarin’s decision is the future of Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, at least not in a personal sense. Although the two are good friends, Milstein said that “they are in no way going to be going as a package.” Bobrovsky appears to be headed for the free agent market, but his likely departure does not necessarily mean that Panarin will leave Columbus simply because his friend is gone. However, how the Jackets plan to handle the massive hole that Bobrovksy would leave in net will definitely be a part of Panarin’s calculations.
Whatever conclusions that Panarin and Milstein come to when the meet in January, if any, the fact remains that in the short-term Panarin is focused on winning with Columbus, and that is likely enough to convince Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen to hold on to his top scorer in hopes of making a title run. “Hopefully he’ll play through the end of the season, will help them get deep into the playoffs and perhaps help them win the Stanley Cup,” Milstein said, “That’s the immediate goal.” This should come as good news for Jackets fans, who can rest easy about their best player, at least until July 1.