The Case for The Columbus Blue Jackets Going All In This Season

Or, why trading Artemi Panarin this offseason is the worst decision the franchise can make.

As we all have heard by now, Artemi Panarin may be on the trading block as the Columbus Blue Jackets look at their options for the future. Today, Tom Reed of the Athletic wrote an article detailing the reasons why Columbus should trade Panarin and get some return on his services if indeed the club feels he will not re-sign here next summer after his contract expires.

On the contrary, the Columbus Blue Jackets should embrace what could be their last season with the superstar forward and make moves to win the Stanley Cup this season. What follows is the case for pushing your chips into the center of the table this season.

Reed’s article focuses on a singluar thesis, quoted here:

Unless the Russian winger has a sudden change of heart and agrees to sign an extension, Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen should trade the unrestricted free agent sooner rather than later. The organization needs to spend the next eight weeks looking to make the best deal possible even if the centerpieces are a high-end prospect (here’s looking at you, Florida center Henrik Borgstrom) and a top-six forward.

Reed lays the foundation that trading Artemi Panarin for thirty cents on the dollar because of the fear that he could leave in unrestricted free agency (as John Tavares recently did to the New York Islanders) and leave the Columbus Blue Jackets holding the bag following the trade that saw Brandon Saad return to the Chicago Blackhawks.

It is entirely possible that Artemi Panarin walks away from the Columbus Blue Jackets. That is undeniable. However, rather than resign themselves to that fate and accept a lesser trade offer, the Columbus Blue Jackets should go the other direction and make trades to surround Panarin with more talent. It has been rumored that Columbus had discussions with the Ottawa Senators surrounding Erik Karlsson, and as of this writing, Karlsson remains a Senator. Columbus could make a play for the defenseman and go all in this year.

A talent like Artemi Panarin does not come around often - he is by far the most dynamic forward to ever come through Columbus, and is under contract for one more season. He is cost controlled at a cap hit of $6 million for next season, as is Sergei Bobrovsky and Zach Werenski.

Here, we take a look at what Elliotte Friedman suggested on last week’s 31 Thoughts podcast:

If I was Columbus, I would go for it next year. I would just say, “We are all in. We are all in. I’m keeping Panarin, I’m keeping Bobrovsky.” ... This is not their fault. This is circumstance. This is a player who wants to be near a body of water, and we’re not talking about Lake Erie. ... I go for it. Look, Washington could never get over the hump, they got over the hump, and they won the Stanley Cup. Columbus is a good team. I am saying, “Alright guys, we’re keeping all of you.” Panarin, if he doesn’t sign, he’s playing for a contract. Bobrovsky, if he doesn’t sign, he’s playing for a contract. ... If you lose them, then you have cap space, and you can make do. I think there are times in your franchise history when you have to say, “We’re going for it.” ... The one thing you have to do is come out and say it, say “We’re going for it.”

Columbus is a smaller market team, but has two bona fide superstars locked down for at least one more season. The team is also solidly built, and has added two excellent depth signings this summer in Riley Nash and Anthony Duclair that give the team bottom six scoring punch and should balance out the third and fourth lines.

The team also has just four playoff appearances in eighteen seasons, with five playoff wins and zero series wins to their credit in franchise history. With the talent on the roster, and the loyalty the fans have shown to this club for nearly two decades despite zero success to speak for - the only active franchise without a playoff series win, just as a reminder - to waste the cost controlled years of two of the best twenty players in the NHL is approaching a fireable offense.

The front office claims to have known this was a possibility when they traded for him - Jarmo Kekäläinen is on record saying as much. To have been caught off guard and not planned for this contingency or been willing to go for it while the team has a dynamic playmaker on the roster is not excusable.

Panarin might see his future elsewhere. He is an unrestricted free agent and has the right to choose his team at the end of his contract - I could never begrudge him that right, however hard it would be to see the most dynamic playmaker Columbus has ever seen walk for nothing in twelve month’s time.

For those twelve months, however, he is a Columbus Blue Jacket showcasing his talents for a new contract. Columbus would be better served as an organization in going for it. Washington had missed their window until they suddenly got hot, found secondary scoring, and won a Stanley Cup. Sergei Bobrovsky has never been a stellar playoff goaltender, but a six week hot streak could change all of that. These players are cost controlled for one more season, and betting on known quantities, even ones that could leave in 2019, represents a bold step forward for a franchise that has consistently played it cautious and taken few risks in franchise history.

It is time to try something new. Trying to go for the Stanley Cup with one of the best playmakers in the entire NHL represents something new.

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