The alluring Kevin Hayes deal Rangers should avoid

Agonizing as the decision may be for the Blue Jackets’ hierarchy, which features good men John Davidson as president and Jarmo Kekalainen as general manager, the choice seems rather clear-cut as concerns impending free agent Artemi Panarin.

If the Columbus organization feels it is on the cusp of a serious challenge for the Stanley Cup and the difference-making winger would be an essential part of that effort, then the Jackets should keep Panarin with the understanding he will depart on July 1 at the conclusion of his contract.

That would be representative of the way business is generally conducted across the spectrum of pro sports. Teams that fancy themselves serious contenders try to win championships without pushing the quest down the road another two or three seasons. Actually, it might be time for Columbus to actually win a playoff round for the first time in franchise history.

But if the Jackets, coached by a John Tortorella who has always preached the importance of honest self-evaluation, believe they are more likely the team that had been listing at 7-7 since Christmas (with just three victories in regulation) entering Saturday’s game against the Blues and was clear of a playoff spot by only three points than the kind of team that can run with Tampa Bay, Toronto and Washington in the Eastern Conference, then Kekalainen should trade Panarin as a high-end rental property.

Send him to the Rangers for Kevin Hayes? I’d say the Jackets would be prone to engage in serious talks on the matter, but it would be a fool’s play for the Blueshirts. If they do indeed trade No. 13, and that’s the strong probability as Feb. 25 approaches, it would be for a stockpile of future assets (hopefully not too far in the future) and not for someone who likely will be available for nothing but money when the free-agent market opens.

If the Rangers need these couple of months to convince Panarin to enlist on Broadway (so he would be eligible for a max-term, eight-year deal here), then it likely would not be worth the effort. Plus, the Blueshirts may well prefer to send Hayes to a team that lacks the cap space to sign the center to a new deal in case he falls in love with his new home, thereby increasing the odds No. 13 might pull a U-turn and return to Broadway this summer as a free agent, if the moons align.

There is no reason for Columbus to feel betrayed by Panarin, who had two years remaining on his contract when the Jackets obtained him from the Blackhawks, effectively for Brandon Saad, in one of those bizarre trades that never make sense no matter how many times someone attempts to convince you they do. There is no reason to point a finger at Panarin for his team’s recent troubles and four-game losing streak, not with the winger recording seven goals and 12 points over the eight games leading into Saturday.

Any contender seeking a prospective elite winger will check in on Panarin. But the Panthers, who entered the weekend with a worse record than the Rangers, might be the one non-contender with a vested interest in obtaining Panarin and using the remainder of the season as a courtship for a long-term relationship. Sunrise is not Manhattan, but South Beach is within close enough range for Panarin to live life happily as a Puddy Tat in a no-tax state.

And the Panthers have an inventory of assets (you certainly would hope so, on their way to missing the playoffs for the 16th time in the past 18 seasons), including wingers Grigori Denisenko and Owen Tippett, who might appeal to the Jackets if the front office believes it is time to reload rather than fortify.

It seems as though the Puddy Tats were motivated to clear future cap space in dealing the stagnating Nick Bjugstad (who has two more seasons at $4.1 million per remaining on his deal) to the Penguins on Friday for Derick Brassard, who as an impending free agent likely will be flipped to a location where he can put his Big Game Brass persona to good use. Panarin could well be Florida’s target.

The Penguins, by the way, have been conducting due diligence regarding Mats Zuccarello, but won’t life somehow seem unfair if the Norwegian says hello to Pittsburgh just when his BFF Brassard had to say goodbye?

Brassard, who should have thrived under the wattage that is generated by Sidney Crosby, was unable to adapt to the role that centers playing on a team with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin necessarily inherit, though the one-time Blueshirt did get a majority of his time flanked by Phil Kessel and Tanner Pearson, neither one too shabby a talent.

The Penguins’ chances of mounting up for another long ride are largely dependent on Malkin (one goal, albeit with 12 assists, in his past 10 games before Saturday) elevating his game. A player such as Zuccarello could be a catalyst, but the Penguins are not exactly overflowing with prospects to exchange for a rental.

So, as a number of you have observed while Henrik Lundqvist climbs the ladder for all-time victories, the six winningest goaltenders in NHL history — Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour, Roberto Luongo, Curtis Joseph and the King — all played in the overtime era. Brodeur, Luongo and Lundqvist also played in the shootout era, in which each game is played to a result.

Clearly, present-day goaltenders will operate under this advantage just as current NBA scoring is inflated by the 3-point line and current NFL passing yardage is enhanced by new-age rules.

There is no need to apply an asterisk to any of it, but as a matter of interest, here is the list of the goaltenders with the most regulation wins in NHL history, compiled by Slap Shots with help from and Brodeur, 580; 2. Roy, 507; 3. Terry Sawchuk, 445; 4. Belfour, 442; 5. Jacques Plante, 437; 6. Tony Esposito, 423; 7. Glenn Hall, 407; 8. Joseph, 402; 9. Grant Fuhr, 373; 10. Luongo, 369.

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