Report: Eastern Conference rival linked to both Panarin AND Bobrovsky

This would be HUGE! Sorry CBJ fans…

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Yesterday  afternoon Columbus Blue Jackets forward Artemi Panarin informed the team that he’s unwilling to negotiate a contract extension in season and will wait until the offseason before deciding whether or not he’ll hit the open market as a free agent. f

Panarin, via agent Dan Milstein, released a statement on Twitter re-iterating that he’s unwilling to negotiate a new contract in-season.

Check it out:

Ouch… that hurts. Sorry, CBJ fans.

Of course, Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is also slated to hit the open market as a free agent and has reportedly informed the team that he’d accept a trade ahead of the NHL’sa February 25th trade deadline. 

Double ouch…

You just HAVE to feel for Blue Jackets fans at this point. GM Jarmo Kekalainen is stuck in a true dilemma now. Trade his two best players or risk having them walk away for nothing in free agency.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook today,” Kekalainen said yesterday. “I can only answer one at a time, but I’m pretty good at returning phone calls.”

So… what’s the plan, Jarmo? Hold ‘em or fold ‘em?

“We’re going to have to weigh the decision in front of us, as far as what’s out there in the marketplace,” Kekalainen said. “The example from last year … we had offers for (pending UFAs) Jack Johnson and Matt Calvert and we decided to keep them, because we thought that’s what’s best for our team in the short-term, and the long-term benefits of trading them weren’t good enough. It’s the same way in these situations.”

Should both Panarin and Bobrovsky both his the free agent market, there will be no shortage of suitors, but there’s one team in particular that NHL insider Elliotte Friedman warns not to sleep on: the Florida Panthers.

Check out this little nugget from Friedman’s latest 31 Thoughts column for Sportsnet:

One out-of-the box team that could try to snare both Bobrovsky and Panarin this summer: Florida.

Interesting… it’s no secret that Panarin is close friends with Tampa Bay Lightning players Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevsky, could the Breadman be lured by their Florida beach lifestyle enough to sign with the rival Panthers? Of course, the New York Rangers and New York Islanders have both been linked to the two pending free agents since the beginning, but don’t be surprised if the Panthers factor into things this upcoming offseason.