Double-shifting in 3-on-3 overtime is dangerous, when every forward has to backcheck on every counterattack, and a tired skater could easily mean an odd-man rush the other way and sudden death. But that’s exactly what Artemi Panarin did for Columbus, staying on the ice for a line change in overtime against Detroit. And it sounds like Panarin might’ve made an executive decision.
“I’m not going to get in his way,” said Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella. “I’m going to allow him to figure that stuff out, because he’s a gamebreaker. I need to respect that and stay out of his way.”
2:11 into overtime, and 1:23 into his shift, Panarin wristed it past Jimmy Howard to give the Blue Jackets the 3-2 win.
He was a possession beast in this one, and he’s going to once again be the big scorer on a CBJ team that projects to be more offensive-minded than in past seasons. But every highlight is going to be just a little bit fraught, because Panarin does not want to be in Columbus next season, and there’s a decent chance he’s not here by the end of this one.
Panarin, who led the team in goals (27) and assists (55) last year, is an unrestricted free agent next summer, and if he makes it that far, he’ll certainly be the most in-demand forward on the market. The Blue Jackets tried to sit down and talk long-term deal in the offseason, but Panarin wasn’t interested in hearing their offer. “It’s about, does he want to spend the next eight years in Columbus?” his agent said.
Panarin, who’ll turn 27 this month, set a September deadline for extension talks (a weird thing to do for a guy who declined to even take part in extension talks), a move he said was designed to stop him from having to think about it during the season. He insists he’s enjoyed his time as a Blue Jacket since coming over in a trade the previous summer, and that his obvious desire to play elsewhere is “really nothing that has to do with the organization specifically.”
So the Blue Jackets will receive no clarity during the season, and though they won’t say it, they understand signing him to a long-term deal is a real long shot. (Things can change, obviously, especially if Columbus is willing to break the bank. But that might not be wise to do for a player, talented as he is, who is relatively one-dimensional.) Rather than lose him for nothing, like the Islanders lost John Tavares, the logical solution would be to trade him during the season. But the Blue Jackets are kind of in a weird place to be trading their best scorer; they should be quite good, but not among the East’s best. CBJ would likely not entertain a trade that centers around prospects who won’t help them for years, but they could be hard-pressed to find a trade partner willing to move immediately useful pieces in exchange for a rental.
The February trade deadline, if things get that far, is going to be a wild one. But until then, every time Panarin scores, he’s simultaneously increasing his trade value while demonstrating his obvious value to the Blue Jackets, now and for the next however many potential years. It’s a conundrum for them. For him, it’s going to be a hell of a payday. Somewhere.