After back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in their existence, this is probably not how the Blue Jackets would’ve liked to kick off 2018-19.
In a word: it’s been strange.
By now, you’ve heard about the Artemi Panarin situation. Entering the final year of his contract and his second season in Columbus, Panarin has expressed a desire to hold off on negotiating a new deal. The belief is that he’s fully prepared to explore unrestricted free agency next summer, but Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen is still holding out hope.
“We have a great relationship with Artemi Panarin,” Kekalainen said at his media day press conference last week in Columbus.
And that leads us to Sergei Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner by the age of 30 who is also in the final year of his contract. Bobrovsky is coming off another solid season, one that’s solidified his place among the NHL’s best goaltenders (where exactly he ranks is a debate best suited for Twitter).
All indications are that Bobrovsky and his agent, Paul Theofanous — who has locked horns with the Blue Jackets before — haven’t had productive or substantive talks regarding a new contract. Considering his two Vezinas and a current contract that pays $7.425 million annually, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Bobrovsky expects to be compensated as one of the top goaltenders in the league.
It all came to a bizarre head on Thursday at Nationwide Arena, where Bobrovsky met the media for the first time since the Blue Jackets’ season ended with a whimper against the Washington Capitals.
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Bobrovsky, who has become more comfortable speaking to reporters and whose English is strong, spoke in vague terms and, on more than one occasion, seemed to imply that his time with the Blue Jackets was coming to an end.
“After the season, I told the situation to management of the Blue Jackets,” Bobrovsky said. “They know my plans for the season, they know my plans for the future.”
Boy, that’s a lot to unpack, isn’t it?
Bobrovsky went on to say that he’s a “Blue Jacket for now” and is prepared to get to work and help the team win this season. Asked if this season would be his last in Columbus, Bobrovsky only said “we’ll see.”
The Blue Jackets are in a situation now that’s peculiar and, in many ways, a no-win. At this point, they can’t afford to trade Bobrovsky on the eve of the season, and if they’re going to make the playoffs again, he’s going to be a significant piece to their puzzle. Trading him at the deadline makes even less sense for them, as the return will be weak and it would gut a team that’s expected to be in the race once again.
After the season, their options are more cut and dry: either sign him to a contract that’s likely to land near $10 million annually, or let him walk. It’s cast a cloud over what should be an exciting time for a Blue Jackets team that’s on the rise, bolstered by additions up front and ready to push the Penguins and Capitals atop the Metropolitan Division.
Instead, it feels like a storm is coming.