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Panarin's honesty has Blue Jackets facing tough decision, but gives them time to make it

Artemi Panarin wanted to be upfront with the Blue Jackets and tell them he wasn't ready to sign an extension. But his honesty with the organization has put them in a difficult position as the draft approaches.
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Last weekend, Daniel Milstein flew to Moscow for a lunch date. It was an extremely long way to go just to break bread, but his client, Artemi Panarin had a very important message for him. As we now all know, Panarin told his agent to inform the Columbus Blue Jackets that he has no intention of signing an extension with the team on July 1, the earliest date a new contract could be announced.

“I gave him all the pros and cons of letting the team know now versus later,” Milstein said. “He just wanted to be truthful and up front with the team and we decided to break the news to them right away. He likes the coach, the GM and the organization, but at the moment he’s not ready. Because Columbus has treated him so well, he didn’t want to harm the franchise and he wanted to be truthful with them and not wait until next year.”

In being so honest, Panarin has without a doubt put the Blue Jackets in a very tough spot. But it could have been worse. The Blue Jackets don’t have an ounce more clarity on whether they’ll be able to sign Panarin long-term, but at least they’re armed by knowing what they don’t know. At the very least, this gives them some options. And it’s important to note, particularly if you’re a Columbus fan and you’re contemplating burning your No. 9 Blue Jackets sweater, that Panarin has at least put the team in the position where it can weigh its options.

Like Erik Karlsson, Panarin will have no more value than he will on Friday, which is Day 1 of the draft. And without a no-trade clause in his deal, the Blue Jackets have no restrictions on potential trading partners. As the number of potential partners decreases after that day, so will his value. So when GM Jarmo Kekalainen and his hockey operations department touch down in Dallas, they’ll do so knowing they’re in a position to extract maximum value for Panarin if they choose to deal him. There have been zero substantive negotiations with Panarin to this point and there should be a real concern on the part of the Blue Jackets that they ultimately will not be able to re-sign him.

And that’s where the problem lies. If he’s not ready to re-sign with Columbus right now, you’d have to assume that he wouldn’t want to re-sign with anybody else, either. Whether he wants to see where Columbus is headed or he wants to enhance his own value with another big season is unclear, but any team that acquires him would want to have a legitimate crack at signing him before giving up a significant package of players and prospects. Because the way it looks now, the risk the Blue Jackets run by not dealing him now is the same risk the team acquiring him would run by trading for him.

There is no doubt that Panarin is an elite player, a speedy, right-shot left winger who is both creative and explosive. He’s the kind of unique player who can drive a line without being a center. And at the age of 26 – he turns 27 on Oct. 30 – he has relatively few NHL miles on his body. There is not a single team in the league, not one, that would not value that kind of player.

So, you throw all that into the blender and you have the makings of a very intriguing couple of days in Texas. Do the Blue Jackets take the risk of not dealing him and hope to re-sign him? Do they take the risk of dealing him without knowing for sure one way or another? How will other teams handle this situation? There is no shortage of teams that would accelerate their development plan by getting Panarin in their lineup. Could you imagine him playing alongside Connor McDavid in Edmonton? He’s one of the few players who can run with McDavid when it comes to speed and skill and putting them together would automatically make both of them more dangerous. With a glaring need for speed in his lineup, Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli has to look at this one very seriously. So do a lot of other people who run NHL hockey departments.

This one is loaded with risk. But where there are great risks, there are also potentially incredibly high rewards. If GMs weren’t burning the phone lines already going into Dallas, they’ll be doing so now.

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