Despite agent Dan Milstein announcing Monday that Artemi Panarin will not sign a contract extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets during this season, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said "nothing" has changed as far as how the team will approach the trade deadline.
"We've said all along we're going to make hard decisions if we have to, but our focus is on getting our team better and making it as competitive as possible for this spring but also into the future obviously," Kekalainen said. "If we have to make a hard decision, we will. We like Artemi and would like to keep him, and it's his right to go into free agency. If he chooses to do so, we'll be knocking on his door July 1, but we're going to go about our business here and try to win hockey games and make the playoffs and go as deep as possible this spring, too."
The Blue Jackets currently sit third in the Metropolitan Division and are positioned to make the playoffs for the third straight year. However, holding onto Panarin – the team's leading scorer – could mean seeing an elite player leave in July for no return.
Kekalainen noted Tuesday that he faced a similar decision last February.