Columbus Blue Jackets
Artemi Panarin broke his silence about his future Friday, and the Blue Jackets forward said he plans to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
“I want to test free agency,” he told the Blue Jackets website, speaking publicly for the first time since he let Columbus know on Jan. 25 that he would discuss his future after the season. “There is still a chance (I could re-sign with Columbus), but I want to see in the summer if I feel there are better options.”
Panarin erased any hope that the Blue Jackets could coax him to sign a new contract before July 1. He was also non-committal about re-signing with the Blue Jackets after that date. On Jan. 26, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said that the Blue Jackets would make Panarin an offer in free agency if they could not sign him before then.
Judging by Panarin’s comments, it appears the Blue Jackets are a long-shot at best to keep their leading scorer. Adding further intrigue, Panarin also announced that he had switched agents from Dan Milstein to Paul Theofanous, the agent for Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who can also become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
“He is very experienced and I’m confident he will serve my interests best going forward,” Panarin said of Theofanous in a statement. “I have no further comment at this time. If you have any questions, please contact Paul directly.”
Theofanous is Panarin’s third agent in four years, according to Aaron Portzline of The Athletic.
Panarin’s decision to hire Theofanous strengthened the belief of some observers that the two Russia-born players could be planning to sign with the same team in free agency. Panarin, speaking after practice in Las Vegas, said that he has not decided on a team to sign with.
“Seriously, guys, I don’t have a team; I don’t have one team where I want to go … We’ll see what happens in the summer, but right now I don’t know what I want,” Panarin told The Columbus Dispatch.
Now Kekalainen and Columbus must make some of the “hard decisions” he referenced in comments Jan. 29. The Blue Jackets, the only NHL team that has not won a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, could keep Panarin and Bobrovsky to make a postseason run, but would risk losing them in free agency. Or they could trade one or both before the trade deadline for players, prospects and/or draft picks.
The Blue Jackets (30-20-3) are in third place in the Metropolitan Division, tied in points (63) with the Pittsburgh Penguins. They are three points behind the second-place Washington Capitals and five behind the first-place New York Islanders.
The Blue Jackets acquired Panarin from the Chicago Blackhawks on June 23, 2017, with a sixth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft for forward Brandon Saad, goalie Anton Forsberg and a fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. The 27-year-old has 60 points (20 goals, 40 assists) in 51 games this season.
Bobrovsky, in his seventh season with Columbus, is 21-16-1 with a 2.98 goals-against average and .902 save percentage this season.
The heat on the Avalanche in increasing.
Colorado’s losing streak reached five games (0-4-1) with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals on Thursday.
Not only are the Avalanche sliding down the Western Conference standings, but they are in danger of becoming sellers instead of buyers.
That fact has not escaped captain Gabriel Landeskog.
“We know that if we don’t start winning, then guys are going to start being moved and that’s just the reality of the matter,” Landeskog told NHL.com writer Tom Gulitti after the loss to the Capitals. “Whether it’s at the deadline or in the summer, that’s just the way it works. If the team’s not producing, if the team’s not doing what it’s supposed to do, then changes are inevitable.
“We know that’s the nature of the beast and we love each other in here and we love the group that we’ve got.”
The Avalanche (22-22-9) are two points behind the St. Louis Blues for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.
Things don’t get easier for the Colorado with eight of their next nine games — a stretch that ends two days before the deadline — against teams in playoff positions, including the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators, who are in first and second place, respectively, in the Central Division.
That stretch could define the look of the 2018-19 Avalanche.
“It would be unfortunate to see this group get split up, but we’ve got a few more weeks to make sure we put ourselves in a position to be buyers or at least happy with what we’ve got and see what we can do with this group,” Landeskog said.
Colorado will try to end its losing streak against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center on Saturday (1 p.m. ET; MSG+, ALT, NHL.TV).
It may be a long wait for those waiting for the Penguins to make their next trade.
General manager Jim Rutherford, who has a history of being aggressive before the trade deadline, suggested he may be cautious as he waits for the Penguins to get healthy.
Center Evgeni Malkin has missed the past four games with an upper-body injury. Defenseman Justin Schultz has been out since Oct. 13 with a lower-body injury. Forward Zach Aston-Reese (broken hand) has been on injured reserve since Jan. 9. Goalie Matt Murray was not available for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers on Thursday.
Murray and Schultz were full participants in practice Friday. Malkin and Aston-Reese participated in non-contact jerseys and defenseman Kris Letang missed practice.
“I hope we don’t have to do anything else, but we’ll have a better idea when Malkin and Schultz get back into the lineup,” Rutherford told NHL.com staff writer Mike Zeisberger. “As long as our team is playing the right way and at a high level, I don’t feel pressure to do anything on trade deadline day.
“I’m not saying I won’t do anything. But I feel the team we have, as long as it’s healthy and playing the way we’re capable of, can contend for the Stanley Cup.”
The Penguins (28-19-7) hold the second wild card from the Eastern Conference to the Stanley Cup Playoffs but have the same number of points as the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are in third place in the Metropolitan Division, three points behind the second-place Washington Capitals. Pittsburgh, 3-6-1 in its past 10 games, is three points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Plus, the Penguins have made a big move, trading for forwards Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann from the Florida Panthers for forwards Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan, a second-round pick and two fourth-round picks.
“I’ve been relatively (impressed) with both players. Small body of work, but we got them for the overall body of work,” Rutherford said. “With Malkin being out, we got them at a key time. Nick’s gone right in there and played well, and Jared as well. Jared is younger and hasn’t been in the League as long, but they’re both good players who can help the Penguins.”
The Penguins play the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SUN, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV).
The Wild did not make a good first impression in their first game without Mikko Koivu, losing 4-1 to the struggling Edmonton Oilers at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday.
Why is one game important?
Because the Wild (26-23-5) have a small window — nine games — to decide if they want to be buyers or sellers before the trade deadline.
It is not much of a sample size for a team that occupies the first wild card from the Western Conference into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and has five team behind it within four points.
General manager Paul Fenton isn’t looking to make excuses, though, which was one of the main talking points during his conversation with NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen.
“The bottom line is it has to be,” he said of the limited judgment period before the deadline being adequate. “There will be some hard decisions to make come the trade deadline, but in the next 10 days or so, it will be determined by just how people play.”
The Wild have five games in the next 10 days, four against Eastern Conference teams and a showdown with the St. Louis Blues, who own the second wild card and are two points behind the Wild.
One of the players the Wild hope can fill the void left by Koivu, who sustained a season-ending knee injury on Tuesday, is Joel Eriksson Ek . The 22-year-old center, called up from Iowa of the American Hockey League on Thursday, scored a goal and had five shots in 15:44 of ice time against the Oilers.
“I’ve been waiting for Eriksson Ek to play top-nine minutes and he’s been waiting to play top-nine minutes in order to take that next step as a player,” Fenton said. “Now we’re going to have an opportunity to watch him and see if he’s capable of handling it. That’s the exciting part — when you have a young player who will get this opportunity. It’s going to be good for the team.”
Victor Rask, a 25-year-old center obtained in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 17, was minus-1 with two shots in 15:58 on Thursday. He has two points (one goal, one assist) in seven games since the trade.
The Wild play next against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on Saturday (1 p.m. ET; MSG, FS-N, FS-WI, NHL.TV).