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Blue Jackets fans can boo Artemi Panarin...but shouldn’t

NHL: New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Like 160 other times since 2017, Artemi Panarin will share the ice with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night at Nationwide Arena. This time, of course, he’ll be playing against the CBJ as a member of the visiting New York Rangers. On this week’s Cannon Cast, I asked if he’ll get booed.

The answer: Yes. But he shouldn’t.

Many have speculated that the Nationwide faithful (some, but not all) will boo Panarin during introductions and cheer him after his tribute video airs at the under-10-minute media timeout during the first period. That’s probably accurate. It’ll be hard to boo him after watching highlights of one of the most talented players to ever put the sweater on, even for the rest of the game (not holding my breath on that part). The first game is always a special case, too—it’s hard to envision Panarin getting booed with the same vigor in, say, 2021.

He’ll get booed. It’s a bummer, but that’s pro sports. And to get in front of this now: If you pay for a ticket, it’s your God-given right to boo. Every time he touches the puck, or they show his face on the big screen, or someone in your aisle says his name. You put down you hard-earned money to get in there, you do you.

Panarin doesn’t really deserve it, though. Nobody has ever put together two better seasons in this franchise’s history. His 55 assists in 2017-18 marked the most by a Blue Jacket in 15 years—and then he posted four more assists the following season. He, of course, holds the single-season points record as well. Plus, no Blue Jacket packed as many jaw-dropping plays into his short résumé as Panarin did. Remember when he assisted on all five goals against New Jersey? Or scored in overtime to beat Washington in the playoffs? Or sealed one of the biggest upsets in professional sports history?

It’s difficult to come up with an exact comparison to Panarin’s situation as it relates to this club. Rick Nash comes to mind, given his skill and accomplishments, but Nash was a face-of-the-franchise homegrown talent that asked out. Plus, in his first game back at Nationwide, he shoved Sergei Bobrovsky and fought Matt Calvert. He earned the boos he got after that, and now he works for the team and everything’s rosy (for the most part). Panarin was traded to Columbus, played out his contract and left. He didn’t badmouth the city, the club or the fans. He’s not Jeff Carter or Adam Foote.

At the same time, I get it. It stings to have a singular talent become the latest—well, along with the other singular talent in the crease—in a long line of big-time players to say “Thanks, but no thanks” to your favorite team. It’s frustrating to watch another great player opt for brighter lights or warmer temperatures, especially given the city’s historical inferiority complex (a complex that has been treated, notably, by landing a major-league sports team like the Blue Jackets). To watch the guy who made you deliriously, euphorically happy publicly decline you two months later...yeah, that sucks. You strew on that all summer and then watch this current iteration of the Blue Jackets struggle to score goals on a nightly basis and—wait, am I talking myself into this?

No. It’s in the past. What do players say all the time when they’re traded? “At the end of the day, it’s a business.” Panarin made the best decision for him and his family, and there’s nothing we can do to change it now. We’ll remember the good times. He’s not leaving the CBJ record books anytime soon, or at least not this season. This situation also a little more clear-cut than Bobrovsky, who won’t come back to Nationwide until New Year’s Eve. Bob did much more for this franchise, and whose time ended in acrimony. Those feelings are deep and complicated, and perhaps mitigated (unfairly, but that’s sports) by Bob’s struggles in Florida.

All this to say: Artemi Panarin was one of the best Blue Jackets ever. He deserves a round of applause, a nice video and some likes on Instagram.

Unless he scores. If he scores, boo that dude back to Greenwich.