The Blue Jackets are expected to lose arguably their two best players this off-season as Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky head into free agency, but both General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen and Coach John Tortorella believe the future is bright.
"There are so many good things going on in our room now and talking to Jarmo and our management group, so many really good pieces are coming here," Tortorella said. "It's an exciting time for us."
The Jackets season ended Monday, when Boston clinched their second round series with a win in game six. Nonetheless, the Jackets had their most successful post-season ever, thanks to their stunning four-game sweep of Presidents Trophy winning Tampa Bay. Bobrovsky and Panarin were huge parts of the Jackets playoff success, but their Blue Jackets careers may be over. Both are unrestricted free agents and as has been well documented throughout the season, neither is expected to resign with Columbus. In both cases, Kekalainen said it's not about the money. The Jackets are willing to pay market value to keep the two stars according to the Jackets GM, however neither player, especially Panarin, seem to want to remain in Columbus long term.
"This team is the Columbus Blue Jackets. We're located in Columbus, Ohio. I happen to love it and I hope that the guys that are in the (locker) room do too," Kekalainen said at Wednesday's exit interviews. "If they don't, they have a choice to go somewhere else, then, good luck. No hard feelings and go play somewhere else then."
Panarin and Bobrovsky may just do that, but they are not the only Blue Jackets stars who are unrestricted free agents. Trade deadline acquisition Matt Duchene, who led the Jackets in goals during the post-season, also could be moving on, although Duchene indicated Wednesday that he's open to returning to Columbus.
"My intent at this point is to explore everything that could be out there," Duchene said. "I've really enjoyed my time here and will definitely be talking with Jarmo and the Blue Jackets and see what is in store."
Free agency begins July 1 and just like at the trade deadline in February, Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets will once again be a huge story. You can check out the press conferences of Kekalainen, Tortorella, Duchene and Bobrovsky below.