The Artemi Panarin drama in Columbus continues to roll on.
First there was the revelation that the player and GM Jarmo Kekalainen met in France early in the week to discuss the decision not to re-sign with the Blue Jackets this summer. That’s fair enough on both sides; the team wants to make sure this elite driver of offense can be locked up as soon as possible for as long as possible, while the player wants to keep his options open.
Then, it came out that not only did Panarin not want to negotiate right now, and also doesn’t want to negotiate after training camp opens because he, predictably, wants to focus on hockey.
It certainly puts Columbus in an interesting spot, because this is now something like the Matt Duchene situation in Colorado last year, or the current one in Ottawa aroudn Erik Karlsson. Something has to happen to get this guy moved out of town because it’s an untenable situation.
The problem, apparently, is that Columbus isn’t likely to get back any kind of helpful asset unless the team to which Panarin is being traded would have a reasonable assurance that it would be able to re-sign him before the end of the season. So if Panarin won’t negotiate after the season begins, the pressure is on for Kekalainen to get a list of teams where the player would be willing to go for the long-term, and start negotiating with them directly.
The idea that Columbus would keep Panarin to start the season, maybe hang onto him until the deadline or longer, and then let him walk for nothing is something to consider as well.
If Columbus isn’t going to get anything of particularly significant value for this coming season — when they should be fairly competitive in the Metro if not the Eastern Conference as a whole — they have to at least consider the idea of keeping him just to be competitive.
It’s easy to forget that Panarin scored 82 points in 81 games this season, and the next-closest scorer on the team was Seth Jones, 25 points back. That’s a huge gap, and one that didn’t get a lot of talk around awards season; he got one fourth- and one fifth-place vote for the Hart, neither from Columbus-based writers, and that doesn’t really seem fair to a guy on a team whose next-highest-scoring forward only had 48 points.
So if Kekalainen can’t make a deal in the next seven weeks or so, and Panarin’s trade value drops to the point that you’re only getting picks, prospects, and probably a cash dump for him, can the team actually afford that? It’s an interesting question because this was a very good team last year despite the lack of non-Panarin offense, but they already scored eight goals below the league average. Maybe you say the maturation of a few players on the roster helps bridge that gap, but Panarin was on the ice for almost 44 percent of his team’s goals last season, and either scored or had the primary assist on more than 26 percent of them.
This is a guy you can’t give away for futures if you want the current team to be any good. No other player on the Columbus roster has the ability to make that kind of a difference. Probably none of them are even close.
So if Columbus can’t get anything for him to help this season, they basically have to keep him unless they really feel like missing the playoffs. Simply put, they cannot expect to go into this season and remain competitive by bumping every left wing on the roster up a spot in the rotation.
I guess it depends on what Kekalainen thinks this team can do with Panarin in the fold, right? Because if you look at this group and say it could come out of the Metro and at least make the Conference Final if things go right (and that’s an extremely plausible scenario as far as I’m concerned) then the playoff revenues alone maybe make it worth the risk. This is, again, a good young team that has plenty of potential to be dangerous in the playoffs.
But it’s a big gamble knowing that if you’re, say, first or second in the division and third or fourth in the conference around mid-January, you probably aren’t going to trade him and he’s probably going to walk on July 1. If you basically have to keep him at the deadline and then you run into a hot goalie in Round 1 and only get two or three home dates out of it? Well, crap. That probably wouldn’t be as valuable to the franchise as the picks and prospects you could have pulled if you traded him around the deadline or, indeed, at some point this summer.
The hard negotiation deadline of “at the start of training camp” might be an attempt to get Columbus to ante up with an eight-figure AAV or something. Panarin can very reasonably make an argument that he’s worth this kind of money; he’s seventh in league scoring over the past three seasons behind former linemate Patrick Kane, Sid Crosby, Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, Blake Wheeler, and Jamie Benn. Panarin can reasonably make a claim to a good chunk of Kane’s offensive explosion as well as his big season with no meaningful help in Columbus last year. And unlike Kucherov, who just re-signed on a massive contract in Tampa, he doesn’t have any lower-cost RFA years left to give.
In an ideal world, you re-sign him now and sort out the other money issues later. There are plenty of too-big contracts on the team for players that don’t have as much of an impact as Panarin, so if you need to get rid of David Savard somehow, well, that’s the cost of doing business.
It is, unfortunately, not an ideal world, so Kekalainen is probably looking at some tough decisions.
Sure, if Columbus can find a destination where they can get a good or even very good player back, then trading him now is worth the hit. That player isn’t likely to be as helpful as Panarin, but the roster overall is very solid and they would probably still be a playoff team with a guy who might max out around, I dunno, like 65 points.
And yeah, you also don’t want a whole season in which every player on the team is asked every day, “What’s gonna happen with Panarin?” And that’s for sure what would happen. There’s almost no good outcome here short of an extension. Players this good just don’t come to any franchise, let alone Columbus, all that often.
But if you’re looking at nothing but futures anyway, you might as well roll the dice and enter the season knowing you’re in a tough spot. Given the makeup of this group, the alternative is, somehow, a lot worse.
All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.