Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen has found himself at a serious fork in the road.
At the end of the regular season, his two stars, Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, will be unrestricted free agents. As of almost November, the camps have not had any discussions about either player returning to Columbus long-term.
The NHL world has seen this story before. Last season, the New York Islanders played the waiting game on John Tavares and ultimately lost him to the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1. Ex-general manager Garth Snow failed to give his superstar an ultimatum and ultimately got burned.
The Blue Jackets cannot let the same happen to them. As much as it will hurt, trading Bobrovsky and Panarin is the right move to ensure extended success for the franchise.
Admittedly, it will hurt, if not destroy, Columbus’ chances of competing this season. Panarin is by far the most dynamic scorer on the team, and Bobrovsky is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner.
There is no real perfect time to trade the two, but perhaps the earlier is the better. It would help give John Tortorella time to sort out his team.
Without Bobrovsky, the cage would in all likelihood turn over to Joonas Korpiasalo. It remains to be seen how Korpisalo, 24, can handle full-time duty, but he certainly has the potential to become a legitimate starter.
The Blue Jackets could easily receive a young, near NHL-ready goaltender in a package for Bobrovsky as well. Moving on from Panarin would generate a large return as well.
Panarin, who turns 27-years-old in a few days, has proven himself to be one of the best players in the NHL since migrating over from Russia. In 250 career games, he has 241 points, which includes nine points in seven games so far this season.
Teams would be lining up to acquire Panarin. If Matt Duchene can get the Avalanche the package that it did, and Max Pacioretty was traded for two first round picks plus more, there is no saying what Panarin might get.
The Blue Jackets, who are 4-3-0 through seven games, will need to ultimately bite the bullet and trade the duo if they are not returning — which seems highly probable now. The return in the trades will help set up the Blue Jackets for success in the upcoming years, even if it hurts now.
If the two walk for nothing, it will be another dark day in Ohio sports history.