It’s been well over a month since NHL insider and Sportsnet reporter Elliotte Friedman dropped a bomb on Columbus Blue Jackets fans. The team’s leading scorer, Russian sniper Artemi Panarin, is reportedly not interested in signing a contract extension with the team and subsequently is being shopped on the trade market.
That rumor dropped over a month ago and yet Panarin remains with the Blue Jackets organization. As we inch closer and closer to the start of the 2018-19 season, rumors are likely to ramp up and there are many around the league who feel that Panarin’s situation could turn into a distraction. Among those unaffected though… Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella. In an interview with Aaron Portzline of The Athletic, the fiery head coach admitted that he’ll have to work hard this season to suppress the narrative that Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, also a pending unrestricted free agent, will be bolting at the season’s end.
“It doesn’t. It can’t. It won’t,” Tortorella said about any potential distraction. “You guys have to report on it. It’s one of my biggest parts of my job this year, to handle it. Do we want those to be distractions? Are we going to be able to handle it as a room, or does it turn into a distraction? I think I need to coach that.”
“But s*** happens. We’re not the only team that has things go on like this.”
Tortorella goes on to admit that he’s “disappointed” Panarin is considering moving on from Columbus. “I look at Panarin… I really like coaching him. I really like him as a person, and I like him in our room,” Tortorella said. “I think he’s contagious as far as how he comes to work and does his job with enthusiasm.”
“I’m disappointed that there’s talk he may be leaving. But I’m not gonna coach him any differently. He’s going to be put in every damn situation I can find to put him in, because he gives us a really good opportunity to win hockey games.”
As for Bobrovsky, Tortorella acknowledges that there’s uncertainty with him as well, but it seems like he’s unafraid to start youngster Jonas Korpisalo more often this season. “You have to understand and be honest with the uncertainty with Bob,” he said. “That plays into it. But I still have to make decisions for us to win hockey games. Korpi still has to keep on growing, too. I’m an open book. If he’s gonna take some games, he’s gonna have to earn it. But I’m not sure where it goes with Bob.”
Man, you have to feel for Jackets fans. After fighting for relevancy their entire existence, they’ve finally managed to put together back to back Stanley Cup Playoffs appearances for the first time in franchise history. Now, it looks like the team’s two best players may be on the way out. Still, Tortorella isn’t losing sight of what’s important.
“We’re a pretty good team. We’re getting there. We want to be a great team, and start understanding what it is to make the playoffs every year,” he said. “Remember, this is only twice (in a row). I’ve told you, you have to make it again and again and again.