What to do with pending free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky?

The central storyline of this Blue Jackets season has been the futures of forward Artemi Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

In the latest development, the two stories may have become one, as Panarin announced he was bailing on agent Dan Milstein and hiring Paul Theofanous, who also represents Bobrovsky. A case of friends sharing business advice, or is this creating a package deal situation for the two Russian-born players? Rumors had the players separately interested in Florida (Panarin already owns a condo in Miami).

As the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline approaches, General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen has basically three scenarios:

Trade both players. This option comes with two subheadings, whether to trade them as a package or in separate deals. Trading the players together presents significant pitfalls. How many teams want to add both a scoring winger and top goalie who are going to be looking to sign high-priced, long-term contracts this offseason? Florida, again, has been rumored as a package destination, but that’s a young team that may just want to take its chances on signing both players as free agents without sending the Jackets players or draft picks. But boy, would Jonathan Huberdeau help ease the sting in Columbus.

The other option would be trading both players but to different teams. Contenders that might see Panarin as a player who could put them over the top and, thus, be worth losing something in trade for, include Nashville, Toronto and Boston. The Predators, in particular, have two young wingers in Kevin Fiala and Eeli Tolvanen, either of who would look nice in Union Blue.

Trade one or the other. Despite the players’ friendship and the fact that they now share an agent, Jarmo could certainly look at this route. The market for Bob might be smaller than for Panarin, given that he’s having a shaky season in net. But he’s won his last several starts, and is a two-time Vezina winner. He’d be an upgrade in net for several teams looking to make a playoff run. Joonas Korpisalo has essentially matched Bob in results this season, and the team might decide it is willing to try to withstand his loss and still make a run.

Hold both players. This might seem counterintuitive, given that both players are pending free agents who have intimated they’re moving on. But neither has come right out and said it, so, maybe there’s a chance? Would Jarmo have the stones to keep both players, hoping for a bit of a playoff run (for a franchise that’s never won a playoff series, not that you needed the reminder — sorry to pick the scab), and then just lose both in the offseason with potentially nothing to show for it? (I mean, a series win isn’t guaranteed even with both players, and trading neither means no players or picks added in return.)

As crazy as it sounds, I’d hold both players unless absolutely blown away by a trade offer, and see if you can make some hay in the postseason. That might be the long-suffering, no-playoff-winning fan in me speaking, and losing both players with no assets in return this offseason would hurt, even if the Jackets win a series (or two?). But I’d be willing to take the chance. Who knows? Maybe the Breadman decides that Columbus is the place for him after all.