It's been quite a week for Sergei Bobrovsky and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, whose future with the team remains in serious doubt as free agency approaches, was benched for two games on Thursday and Saturday for an undisclosed incident, though it can be best described as conduct detrimental to the team.
"There are certain expectations and values that we have established for our players that define our culture," Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. "An incident occurred in which Sergei failed to meet those expectations and values, so we made the decision that he would not be with the team for tonight's game. This is an internal matter and we will have no further comment at this time."
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The 30-year-old netminder, along with teammate and forward Artemi Panarin, has been the subject of trade rumors for much of the past five months as both Blue Jackets are now halfway through the final seasons of their contracts.
With no progress made toward an extension along with no real displays of desire to stay in Columbus, the Blue Jackets' best course of action would be to deal both players before the NHL's Feb. 26 trade deadline.
Bobrovsky's benching only piled more speculation on his future, especially when he posted this to his Instagram account on Thursday:
Bobrovsky has since returned to the Blue Jackets lineup where he made 22 saves on 27 shots in a 7-5 victory against the New York Rangers on Sunday night. He proceeded to say all the right things in the locker room after the game like most professionals will do. Yet the clock is ticking on both his and Panarin's future in Columbus, which means a decision has to be made soon.
Where could Bobrovsky be dealt?
There is no denying that Bobrovsky is having a down season in 2018-19. His .903 save percentage and 2.93 goals-against average this season are far off his marks over the past two years (.926 SV%, 2.24 GAA). Yet there are teams on the verge of contending who would see Bobrovsky as a major upgrade, especially if he can find his form from season's past.
He could slot in as the Buffalo Sabres' No. 1 goalie over Carter Hutton or Linus Ullmark. Even the Carolina Hurricanes might show interest if Curtis McElhinney slows down from his solid first half. Both teams are on the outside looking in on the playoff standings in the Eastern Conference.
Out in the Western Conference, the Colorado Avalanche haven't been receiving stellar goaltending from Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer this season. Yet they still hold the final Wild Card spot thanks to an explosive offense.
Obviously this depends on whether Bobrovsky would waive his no-movement clause. But if he wants out of Columbus as anticipated, it shouldn't be much of a problem. Especially if it's to another contender.
What about Artemi Panarin?
The 27-year-old winger is only driving up his value thanks to a monster start to the season. In 43 games, he's recorded 50 points behind 17 goals and 33 assists. He's been red-hot as of late behind eight goals and eight assists (16 points) in his last 11 games.
Any talks of a trade though have been quiet surrounding Panarin as the Blue Jackets seem content on waiting things out until the All-Star break, where the winger will meet with management to discuss his future with the team.
It's a large risk to take considering they stand on losing two All-Star-caliber players for nothing in free agency this summer. But the Blue Jackets are in a difficult spot when it comes to trading away Bobrovsky or Panarin.
Had the Blue Jackets stumbled out of the gates and been near the bottom of the Eastern Conference at this point, jettisoning both players away for the best return possible would have been a no-brainer. The problem is that the Blue Jackets have won 10 of their last 13 games and are currently second in the Metropolitan Division, just two points behind the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.
There have been a number of teams linked with Panarin, including a possible reunification with the Chicago Blackhawks or a move to New York where both the Islanders and Rangers have been deemed interested.
The contending Islanders would be expected to be far more interested if Panarin was made available. New York is just three points back of Columbus as one of the biggest surprises in the league thanks to a much-improved defense. Adding Panarin to their attack would greatly help an offense that has featured a struggling and inconsistent power play.