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Blue Jackets may have to make decisions on Panarin, Bobrovsky

Forward, goalie have not signed extension; coach Tortorella expected to do so

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky could be with the Columbus Blue Jackets for a long time or could be gone before the season starts, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said Friday.

Though a contract extension for the forward and goalie remain possible, Kekalainen wouldn't commit to either opening the season at the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 4.

"I can't," Kekalainen said. "In this business, there's always talks between the general managers whether you've got pending free agents or not. We talk regularly. Sometimes there's trades. So I'm not speculating on them. I'm just saying we talk all the time, so I wouldn't say about any player whether they're a pending free agent or not that they'll be on our team in October because anything can happen between now and Oct. 3."


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The Blue Jackets have until July 1 to sign Panarin and Bobrovsky before each can become an unrestricted free agent.

"I think we have to make some decisions based on where it goes at the appropriate time," Kekalainen said. "If we can't work out a contract, then we'll have to make some decisions. I wouldn't say they're just going to stay and ride out into the sunset.

"Where we're at with our team, we have to make some decisions and we're hopeful we can get contracts done. If not, we'll have to make some decisions."

It appears likely Panarin, who turns 27 on Oct. 30, and Bobrovsky, who turns 30 on Sept. 20, will remain unsigned beyond this season when Columbus opens training camp Sept. 14. Kekalainen wouldn't speculate on how long the Blue Jackets would be willing to wait if there isn't progress in contract talks.

Video: The futures of Panarin and Bobrovsky in Columbus

Panarin, who set a Columbus record with an NHL career-high 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists) last season, reportedly expressed a reluctance to commit to the Blue Jackets long term after offseason efforts to sign the left wing to an extension, which can be as long as eight years. The Blue Jackets have been similarly unsuccessful in talks with Bobrovsky, who won the Vezina Trophy voted as the NHL's top goaltender in 2012-13 and 2016-17.

"We want to keep them and we haven't been able to be successful yet in extending their contracts, but we're still optimistic we can get things done and we feel they can be a huge part of our team in the future," Kekalainen said. "We're going to have a good team into the future and hopefully they want to be part of it. That's our mindset right now, to keep working at it."

Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones expressed hope Panarin and Bobrovsky will remain with Columbus and discussion of their futures won't become a distraction.

"We want to have them here as long as we can, both of them," Jones said at the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago. "They are huge parts of our team. I don't think anybody understands how big a role they play on our team. It is what it is. They have that right within their contract to do that, so you can't blame a guy for doing that. Hopefully our season doesn't revolve around that. I think that would be a shame."

Video: Discussing the Blue Jackets' front-office extensions

The Blue Jackets announced Thursday that Kekalainen and president of hockey operations John Davidson each agreed to a multiyear contract extension, and assistant GM Bill Zito agreed to an extension and was promoted to associate GM. Kekalainen said he expects coach John Tortorella to sign an extension before training camp opens.

"We're working on it right now," Kekalainen said. "We're confident something will be in place before we start next weekend."

Tortorella, 60, coached the Blue Jackets to the Stanley Cup Playoffs each of the past two seasons -- the first time they qualified in consecutive seasons -- and is 129-87-23 in three seasons with Columbus.

"He's done a great job," Kekalainen said. "I think the coaching staff has done a great job for us, and stability is important, so I'm sure we'll get something worked out."

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