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Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter

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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

 
Trend Player Pos Age GP G PTS Cap Hit Years
Embedded Image 1. Artemi Panarin, CBJ LW 27 47 19 55 $6M UFA
Embedded Image 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
Embedded Image 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
Embedded Image 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
Embedded Image 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
Embedded Image 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
Embedded Image 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

TRADED:

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​