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Panarin, Bobrovsky not distraction to Blue Jackets, Tortorella says

Top-line forward, starting goaltender can each become unrestricted free agent July 1

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Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky each can become an unrestricted free agent after this season, but Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said he's happy their status hasn't been a distraction.

"I think [Bobrovsky is] handling himself really well," Tortorella said Friday. "I wasn't sure where all this goes with him and [Panarin], the stuff flying around them. I know that a really big part of my job is to watch that and just make sure we are doing things the right way ... it's also the team as far as how they are handling the situation, I think it's been really good."

Bobrovsky and Panarin can each become a UFA on July 1, 2019.

Panarin, a 27-year-old forward, is in the final season of a two-year contract he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 28, 2016. He has been eligible to sign a contract extension with the Blue Jackets since July 1; however, he said he would not have contract discussions during the season after the two sides failed to reach an agreement prior to training camp in September.

Panarin leads the Blue Jackets with 25 assists and is second with 34 points behind Cam Atkinson (35). It was reported last month that Panarin would meet with his agent in January to discuss his future with the Blue Jackets.

Columbus will have its mandatory five-day break from Jan. 20-24, followed by the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend in San Jose on Jan. 25-26. Panarin's future could involve being traded prior to the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline (Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET).

"One of the things we talk about especially in this situation is ignore the noise," Tortorella said. "We had a very important meeting when the season started. I'm not going to tell you what was said, but it was a very honest meeting. Just to lay the groundwork as far as what's going to be around this team all year long."

Bobrovsky, 30, is in the final year of a four-year contract he signed Jan. 11, 2015. He's 14-10-1 with a 2.78 goals-against average, .908 save percentage and one shutout in 25 games (24 starts) this season. Bobrovsky is the Blue Jackets' all-time leader in wins (190) and shutouts (25), and has won the Vezina Trophy twice in his seven seasons with Columbus (2012-13, 2016-17)

"[Bobrovsky] and I have ... I think we've communicated more this year," said Tortorella, who is in his fourth season as coach of the Blue Jackets. "I've tried to communicate more with him because it's a different situation with all the things going on around him.

The Blue Jackets (19-12-3) are in second place in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the first-place Washington Capitals. They play the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NBCSP, FS-O, NHL.TV, ESPN+).

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