Jarmo Kekalainen’s phone has been lit up like a Christmas tree since Monday.
The rest of the NHL’s general managers have been phoning their cohort in Columbus since Monday’s statement by Artemi Panarin’s agent, Dan Milstein, which seemingly all but assured his client’s fate with the Blue Jackets.
“It’s disappointing,” Kekalainen told reporters Tuesday. “But all we can do is do our best.”
The consensus now is that Panarin is more likely to be traded than not.
That makes Panarin the new No. 1 on TSN’s Trade Bait board, bumping Matt Duchene and his uncertain future in Ottawa down to No. 2.
Rarely does a talent like the Bread Man become available at any point on the hockey calendar. Panarin, 27, is one of the few wingers who drives play on a nightly basis. He is on pace for a career-best 33 goals and 96 points, he’s been remarkably consistent in four NHL seasons, and he’s in the absolute prime of his career.
Unlike fellow pending unrestricted free agent Sergei Bobrovsky, Panarin does not have any no-trade protection and can be moved to any team.
Panarin is the golden TradeCentre chip that both playoff and rebuilding teams covet.
But Kekalainen is facing the ultimate manager’s conundrum before the Feb. 25 deadline. He must weigh the value of Panarin’s return with losing him for nothing in the summer while also trying to stickhandle around trading away his best player from the only NHL franchise that has never won a playoff series.
Panarin finished 25 points clear of the Blue Jackets’ next closest scorer last season. Clearly, Kekalainen needs some combination of current roster players with futures in prospects and first-round picks.
What Kekalainen can get for Panarin could hinge on Panarin’s interest or willingness to negotiate a long-term extension with a potential suitor – and whether Kekalainen will even give him that possibility.
Kekalainen specifically mentioned underwhelming returns offered for pending UFAs Jack Johnson and Matt Calvert last year, which is why the Blue Jackets ended up keeping them to make a run.
The bet is Kekalainen won’t have that same flexibility this time around.
“We’ve said all along we’re going to make hard decisions if we have to,” Kekalainen told reporters. “But our focus is on getting our team better, making it as competitive as possible, for this spring but also into the future, obviously. If we have to make a hard decision, we will. We like Artemi and would like to keep him. It’s his right to go to free agency, and if he chooses to do so we’ll be knocking on his door July 1.”
Here is TSN Hockey’s latest Trade Bait board, which always seeks to blend the prominence of player with his likelihood of being traded:
The Top 45
|1. Artemi Panarin, CBJ||LW||27||47||19||55||$6M||UFA|
|2. Matt Duchene, OTT||C||28||41||20||47||$6M||UFA|
|3. Wayne Simmonds, PHI||RW||30||50||15||23||$3.98M||UFA|
|4. Micheal Ferland, CAR||LW||26||41||13||25||$1.75M||UFA|
|5. Mats Zuccarello, NYR||RW||31||35||8||24||$4.5M||UFA|
|6. Dougie Hamilton, CAR||RD||25||50||8||19||$5.75M||2|
|7. Gustav Nyquist, DET||RW||29||51||11||43||$4.75M||UFA|
|8. Cam Talbot, EDM||G||31||27||3.27||.894||$4.17M||UFA|
|9. Derick Brassard, PIT||C||31||40||9||15||$5M||UFA|
|10. Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ||G||30||35||2.97||.902||$7.43M||UFA|
|11. Jakub Silfverberg, ANA||RW||28||42||12||19||$3.75M||UFA|
|12. Jimmy Howard, DET||G||34||34||2.76||.916||$5.3M||UFA|
|13. Charlie Coyle, MIN||C||26||50||9||26||$3.2M||1|
|14. Alec Martinez, LAK||RD||31||36||3||11||$4M||2|
|15. Kevin Hayes, NYR||C||26||40||10||33||$5.18M||UFA|
|16. Brayden Schenn, STL||C||27||45||9||27||$5.13M||1|
|17. Colton Parayko, STL||RD||25||49||8||13||$5.5M||3|
|18. Jeff Carter, LAK||C||33||49||10||25||$5.27M||3|
|19. Cody Ceci, OTT||RD||24||46||5||15||$4.3M||RFA|
|20. Brett Pesce, CAR||RD||23||41||3||11||$4.03M||5|
|21. Alex Edler, VAN||LD||32||36||5||20||$5M||UFA|
|22. Andre Burakovsky, WSH||LW||23||44||6||12||$3M||RFA|
|23. Marcus Johansson, NJD||LW||28||37||7||17||$4.58M||UFA|
|24. Chris Kreider, NYR||LW||27||49||22||37||$4.63M||1|
|25. Mark Stone, OTT||RW||26||50||22||50||$7.35M||UFA|
|26. Nick Bjugstad, FLA||C/RW||26||32||5||12||$4.1M||2|
|27. Justin Faulk, CAR||RD||26||50||3||17||$4.83M||1|
|28. Alex Steen, STL||LW||34||35||6||15||$5.75M||2|
|29. Jay Bouwmeester, STL||LD||35||45||2||10||$5.4M||UFA|
|30. Kasperi Kapanen, TOR||RW||22||49||15||30||$863K||RFA|
|31. Andreas Johnsson, TOR||LW||24||43||10||22||$788K||RFA|
|32. Ryan Dzingel, OTT||LW||26||48||20||38||$1.8M||UFA|
|33. Patrick Maroon, STL||LW||30||41||4||14||$1.75M||UFA|
|34. Jesse Puljujarvi, EDM||RW||20||39||4||9||$925K||RFA|
|35. Adam McQuaid, NYR||RD||32||25||0||3||$2.75M||UFA|
|36. Niklas Kronwall, DET||LD||38||48||2||14||$4.75M||UFA|
|37. Bogdan Kiselvich, FLA||LD||28||31||0||8||$925K||UFA|
|38. Chris Tanev, VAN||RD||29||46||2||10||$4.45M||1|
|39. Vlad Namestnikov, NYR||LW||25||45||4||16||$4M||1|
|40. Carl Hagelin, LAK||LW||30||29||2||6||$4M||UFA|
|41. Nathan Beaulieu, BUF||LD||26||26||3||7||$2.4M||RFA|
|42. Dale Weise, PHI||RW||30||42||5||11||$2.35M||1|
|43. Mikkel Boedker, OTT||LW||29||50||5||27||$4M||1|
|44. Sam Gagner, VAN||RW||29||7||1||3||$3.15M||1|
|45. Jeff Skinner, BUF||LW||26||49||31||45||$5.73M||UFA|
No. 5: Maple Leafs’ first-round pick - Toronto to Los Angeles on Jan. 28
No. 13: Chris Wideman - Ottawa to Edmonton on Nov. 22
No. 14: Tanner Pearson - Los Angeles to Pittsburgh on Nov. 14
No. 17: Jake Muzzin - Los Angeles to Toronto on Jan. 28
No. 27: Alex Petrovic - Florida to Edmonton on Dec. 29
No. 27: Nino Niederreiter - Minnesota to Carolina on Jan. 17
No. 28: Brandon Manning - Chicago to Edmonton on Dec. 29
No. 35: Michael Del Zotto - Vancouver to Anaheim on Jan. 16
No. 35: Jamie Oleksiak - Pittsburgh to Dallas on Jan. 29
No. 36: Luke Schenn - Anaheim to Vancouver on Jan. 16
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli