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Blue Jackets seek answers before making decisions on Panarin, Bobrovsky

GM Kekalainen says Columbus 'will do what we need to do' regarding two pending unrestricted free agents @NHLdotcom

Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky's futures with the Columbus Blue Jackets remain in question, and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said he will have tough decisions to make if neither decides to remain with the team.

Panarin and Bobrovsky each can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Kekalainen said Columbus is prepared for the future if it doesn't include Bobrovsky, who, along with Panarin, could be traded prior to the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25.

Bobrovsky missed a 4-3 overtime win against the Nashville Predators on Jan. 10 after the 30-year-old goalie failed to meet "certain expectations and values." Panarin, a forward, is in the final season of a two-year contract he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 28, 2016.

"We're going to get some answers and then we're going to have to make decisions," Kekalainen told the Blue Jackets website on Monday "They're obviously two very talented players, two guys that have been a big part of our success, so that makes it a little bit more intriguing from the outside and people are curious to see how all of this is going to play out.

"But we will do what we need to do, do our best to convince them that they'd like to be part of our future for a long time as a Blue Jacket in Columbus, and if that doesn't happen, then we're going to have to make decisions. ... and if we have to make hard decisions, we'll make them."

Panarin 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.

Video: CBJ@MIN: Panarin beats Dubnyk through screen for PPG

The 27-year-old leads the Blue Jackets with 53 points and is first with 34 assists. It was reported in November that Panarin would meet with his agent in January to discuss his future with the Blue Jackets.

Columbus (28-17-3) is second in the Metropolitan Division and off for its mandatory five-day break before the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend in San Jose. 

"I feel great about our core, and it's only going to get better," Kekalainen said. "I've said it many times, we had 108 points in the regular season before Artemi Panarin arrived. That's not to slight Artemi at all. We love him, he's a great player and he makes our team better, and if for some reason he doesn't want to stay here we'll move along and we'll be a strong team in the future as well. We hope he stays. We'll do our best to convince him and we'll see what happens."

Bobrovsky is in the final year of a four-year contract the goalie signed Jan. 11, 2015. He's 19-14-1 with a 2.91 goals-against average, .904 save percentage and two shutouts in 34 games (33 starts) this season. Bobrovsky is the Blue Jackets' all-time leader in wins (195) and shutouts (26) and has won the Vezina Trophy twice in his seven seasons with Columbus (2012-13, 2016-17).

Video: CBJ@MIN: Bobrovsky extends pad to rob Zucker

"Obviously he's been here for all the success we've had, but we have some great young goaltenders coming," the GM said. "We have Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins and Veini Vehvilainen. Those guys, Merzlikins and Vehviläinen, are ready to play in North America next year, and whether they can replace Sergei Bobrovsky, those are going to be big shoes to fill since he's a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, but hey, I can't repeat it too many times. We'll do our best and that's all we can do, and there's nothing more we can do. 

"Whatever they decide, we'll move along and life goes on."

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