COLUMBUS -- The Columbus Blue Jackets have already shown they're serious about winning this season after acquiring forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel from the Ottawa Senators in separate trades on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
Now, they are in a position to deal from strength if they decide to move forward Artemi Panarin before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Monday at 3 p.m. ET.
General manager Jarmo Kekalainen continues to downplay the possibility of trading Panarin, Columbus' leader with 68 points (24 goals, 44 assists) this season who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
[RELATED: Duchene traded to Blue Jackets by Senators for picks, prospects | Dzingel traded to Blue Jackets by Senators]
"We're serious about winning and Artemi Panarin is a huge part of our team," Kekalainen said during a conference call with the media Sunday. "And as I've said, it would take a lot not only in the long term but in the short term as well to make that kind of trade. We're not trading Artemi Panarin for draft picks."
That doesn't mean Kekalainen definitely won't trade the 27-year-old, though.
It's a going to be a difficult needle for Kekalainen to thread, but he's already part of the way there after adding Duchene and Dzingel.
If the Blue Jackets can add another piece that helps them this season and in the future as part of a package for Panarin, and maybe recoup some of the draft picks they gave up in the trades for Duchene and Dzingel (potentially two first-round picks and two second-round picks), Kekalainen can make a case that they are a better team, even without Panarin.
That is always the objective at the trade deadline.
Acquiring Duchene, who has 60 points (28 goals, 32 assists) in 52 games this season, takes some of the pressure off 20-year-old center Pierre Luc-Dubois and gives Columbus a solid one-two punch to compete against Metropolitan Division rivals such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are strong at center with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and the Washington Capitals, who have Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom in the middle.
Dzingel had 44 points (22 goals, 22 assists) in 57 games with the Senators and happened to be Duchene's left wing for much of that time. In Duchene's first two games with Columbus, the 28-year-old centered a line with Panarin and Cam Atkinson on his wings and had two points (one goal, one assist), but Dzingel could seamlessly fit at left wing on that line if the Blue Jackets decide to trade Panarin.
Video: Dzingel traded to Blue Jackets for Duclair, picks
And though Dzingel also is a pending UFA, the 26-year-old played three seasons at nearby Ohio State from 2011-2014 and already has expressed more interest in signing a new contract with Columbus than Panarin has in his two seasons there.
"There's a very high chance of that, obviously, if they want me and things have to fall in place," Dzingel said. "But I love the city. I love how close it is to my family and I love the direction and Jarmo said it: They want to win. It's easy to play in an organization that wants that and keeps everybody honest. So, we'll see how it goes. Obviously, there's two sides to it and looking forward to that possibility, for sure."
Kekalainen made it clear he intends to try to keep Dzingel in Columbus.
"He's definitely one of those players who we identified as a good candidate to stay here into the future and we did not just acquire him to be a rental," Kekalainen said. "Obviously, he has that right July 1 to become a UFA and we again realize the risk that could happen, but that goes for all our UFAs or pending UFAs. We'd like to keep them."
Duchene, another pending UFA, said he's open to considering staying with the Blue Jackets, but wants to put off contract negotiations until after the season, which he hopes incudes a long run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That also gives the Blue Jackets more hope than they have with Panarin, who is intent on testing the market on July 1.
Video: SJS@CBJ: Duchene backhands the puck past Jones
The Blue Jackets are in a similar position with Sergei Bobrovsky, a two-time winner of the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goaltender. Bobrovsky also can become a UFA on July 1, but has a no-movement clause in his expiring contract. So, trading the 30-year-old would be complicated, particularly because Columbus would have to acquire a veteran goaltender to replace him.
The Blue Jackets already have some pieces in place to help fill the hole created should they trade Panarin after acquiring Duchene and Dzingel. But Kekalainen is holding firm in his stance to teams that might be interested.
Although Kekalainen wouldn't discuss details, he said he's received "plenty" of offers for Panarin.
"But nothing that would make us trade him," he said.
Obviously, Kekalainen doesn't have to trade Panarin. He's made it clear that he's ready to take his chances in the playoffs with Panarin and Bobrovsky on the team.
As the Blue Jackets are currently constructed, that would probably give them their best chance of winning a playoff series for the first time in their 18-seaosn history. But, that could change if they get the right offer for Panarin.
"I've said consistently that only if there's an offer that really makes sense in the short term as well as in the long term would we be moving either one of those guys (Panarin and Bobrovsky)." Kekalainen said.
"That's the focus right now. We've been saying that we want to send a message into the locker room, first and foremost into the locker room and into our fan base that we're serious about winning."