By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Boston Bruins are an unfinished product.
The missing piece, if you ask them: An impact forward to plug somewhere in their top six — likely on their right side. But if the solution — many have pointed to Carolina’s Jeff Skinner, Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds, and Minnesota restricted free agent Jason Zucker as a potential fit — can’t be acquired on the right, perhaps you simply bolster the left side.
That brings us to Columbus Blue Jackets winger Artemi Panarin.
In the final year of his current contract (one that pays him $6 million per season), the Blue Jackets and Panarin seem to be at a standstill when it comes to hammering out a new deal. The Blue Jacket front office met with Panarin and his entourage in France last week, and absolutely nothing came of it. Panarin has since put a Sept. 13 deadline on a new contract.
This has left the Blue Jackets, who are as tightlipped an organization as you’ll find in today’s National Hockey League, in an unenviable spot of trying to determine if it’s better to hang onto Panarin and get Tavares’d next summer or trade him now.
But their unfavorable spot may be exactly what the Bruins want to hear.
With Panarin, it’s not that he wants out of Columbus as much as it’s about a potential better fit for where he wants to play and live. This isn’t shocking when you’re a 26-year-old that played in St. Petersburg and Chicago before landing in Columbus. That’s not even a knock to Columbus, either but more of a commentary of a Russian-born trying to maximize his star-power.
“I get the feeling that Panarin wants to play in a big market,” an NHL source told 98.5 The Sports Hub. “He really enjoyed his time in Chicago, so it’s not hard to see him wanting to play in a similar environment if he leaves Columbus.”
So, would he like Boston?
“I could see him liking Boston, actually” the source said. “It’s not as ‘big city’ as New York or Chicago. But it’s a city with passionate fans that sellout their building and clearly care about their hockey team.”
While Boston is no Chicago, it would certainly fit the bill as a city where Panarin could a) thrive b) establish a name for himself as a legitimate star given the national exposure the Bruins tend to get on NBC and c) contribute for a competitor. (The ‘Bruins don’t like Russians’ and vice versa argument is a load of outdated crap, too, proven by Alex Khokhlachev’s apparent desire to come back to Boston and the Bruins being a finalist in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweeps earlier this summer.)
But don’t be fooled by their name and lack of playoff success: The Blue Jackets are as win-now as the Bruins; Sergei Bobrovsky is entering the final year of his current contract, and the Jackets are going to have to pay star defenseman Zach Werenski some real money next summer. This is the start of things getting tight for a team that’s made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in their franchise’s history but still looking for their first playoff series victory. There also tends to be a shelf life with John Tortorella-coached hockey teams, and the Jackets could be approaching that, as well.
In essence, your finest package centered on futures and futures alone won’t help seal the deal on a Panarin-to-Boston move.
Nor should it be when you’re talking about a left winger that’s recorded 88 goals and 233 points in 243 NHL games. (In fact, Panarin’s 88 goals rank as the seventh-most among left wingers since the start of the 2015-16 season, while his 233 points are second to Jamie Benn’s left-best 237. Brad Marchand, for comparison’s sake, has 110 goals and 231 points over that span.)
But without a contract extension for Panarin in place, there’s no chance in hell that the Jackets are successfully prying a package centered around second-line left winger Jake DeBrusk out of the Bruins. I truthfully have my doubts if a signed Panarin would be enough to get DeBrusk out of a B’s sweater after what he proved to the organization this past season, really.
This isn’t to say that the Bruins don’t have something to offer the Blue Jackets, though.
When you talk about that aforementioned unfinished product that is the Black and Gold, one of the other reasons it’s unfinished? The Bruins have eight defensemen signed to their roster right now. And while the Bruins rolled with this for quite a while last year with Adam McQuaid and Paul Postma, a two-scratched defensive structure would stand to have the Bruins put over $4 million in the press box on a nightly basis. That’s assuming that McQuaid and Matt Grzelcyk are the two scratched defenders, too. If it were John Moore and McQuaid, you’re talking about $5.5 million in scratched d-men. If the Bruins were not willing to sit Matt Beleskey and his $3.8 million on a regular basis, there’s no way they’re sitting $5.5 million.
You already know where this is going. But in case you don’t: It’s linking back to Torey Krug.
The player targeted as the Bruins’ biggest trade chip (a player whose availability is something they should seriously reconsider no matter the move), Krug would represent an immediate boost to the offensive punch of any team’s left side. The Blue Jackets, who had the worst power-play percentage among all playoff-qualifying teams a season ago (their 17.2 power-play percentage was the seventh-worst in all of hockey), and had just 36 total power-play points from their defenders last year. Krug, meanwhile, recorded a combined 29 power-play points between the regular season and postseason.
Krug, who has put back-to-back 50-point seasons, would also slide perfectly into place on the Columbus depth chart. The Blue Jackets have Ryan Murray (a 24-year-old No. 2 overall pick from 2012 still looking to find his NHL groove), Scott Harrington, and something called Dean Kukan behind Werenski on their left-side defensive depth chart.
The 5-foot-9 defender also stays in line with the Jackets’ idea of competing in the now, and doesn’t force Columbus into a long-term commitment with a player they do not fully know. Another bonus: The Bruins have a glut of young, team-controlled left wingers (besides DeBrusk) that Columbus could likely pry out of Boston as a potential throw-in.
It’s all meaningless until that Panarin-imposed Sept. 13 deadlines comes and goes with or without a new deal, of course.
But don’t be surprised if the Bruins are among those that have Sept. 13 circled on their calendar.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.