Jarmo Kekalainen's phone has been lit as a Christmas tree since Monday.
The rest of NHL general managers are calling their cohort in Columbus since Monday's statement from Artemi Panarin agent Dan Milstein, who apparently secured his client's fate with the Blue Jackets.
"It's disappointing," Kekalainen told reporters on Tuesday. "But all we can do is give the best of us."
The consensus now is that Panarin is more likely to be traded than not.
That makes Panarin the new No. 1 on the TSN Commercial Bait Board, beating Matt Duchene and his uncertain future in Ottawa, coming in second.
Rarely does a talent like the Bread Man become available at any time on the hockey calendar. Panarin, 27, is one of the few wings to run the game every night. He is on pace for a career-best 33 goals and 96 points, he has been remarkably consistent in four NHL seasons, and he is at the absolute pinnacle of his career.
Unlike the unrestricted free hanging companion, Sergei Bobrovsky, Panarin has no protection without trade and can be transferred to any team.
Panarin is the TradeCentre's golden chip that both playoff teams and rebuilding teams covet.
But Kekalainen is facing the final manager's riddle before the deadline of February 25. He must weigh the value of Panarin's return, losing him for nothing in the summer, while trying to keep the best player in the only NHL franchise he has ever won a series of playoffs.
Panarin finished 25 points clear of Blue Jackets' closest scorer last season. Clearly, Kekalainen needs a combination of current players with prospect futures and first round picks.
What Kekalainen might get from Panarin might depend on Panarin's willingness or willingness to negotiate a long-term extension with a potential suitor – and whether Kekalainen would even give him that possibility.
Kekalainen specifically mentioned below-expected returns offered by UFAs outstanding Jack Johnson and Matt Calvert last year, which is why the Blue Jackets ended up keeping them to run.
The bet is that Kekalainen will not have the same flexibility this time around.
"We have already said that we will make difficult decisions if necessary," Kekalainen told reporters. "But our focus is on improving our team, making it as competitive as possible, for this spring, but also for the future, obviously. If we have to make a difficult decision, we will. We like Artemi and would love to keep it. It's your right to go to the free agency, and if he chooses to do so, we'll be knocking on your door on July 1.
Here is TSN Hockey's latest commercial bait tray, which always seeks to blend the prominence of the player with the probability of being traded:
|1. Artemi Panarin, CBJ||LW||27||47||19||55||US $ 6 million||UFA|
|2. Matt Duchene, OTT||W||28||41||20||47||US $ 6 million||UFA|
|3. Wayne Simmonds, PHI||RW||30||50||15||23||US $ 3.98 million||UFA|
|4. Micheal Ferland, CAR||LW||26||41||13||25||US $ 1.75 million||UFA|
|5. Mats Zuccarello, NYR||RW||31||35||8||24||US $ 4.5 million||UFA|
|6. Dougie Hamilton, CAR||RD||25||50||8||19||US $ 5.75 million||2|
|7. Gustav Nyquist, DET||RW||29||51||11||43||US $ 4.75 million||UFA|
|8. Cam Talbot, EDM||G||31||27||3.27||.894||US $ 4.17 million||UFA|
|9. Derick Brassard, PIT||W||31||40||9||15||US $ 5 million||UFA|
|10. Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ||G||30||35||2.97||, 902||US $ 7.43 million||UFA|
|11. Jakub Silfverberg, ANA||RW||28||42||12||19||US $ 3.75 million||UFA|
|12. Jimmy Howard, DET||G||34||34||2.76||916||US $ 5.3 million||UFA|
|13. Charlie Coyle, MIN||W||26||50||9||26||US $ 3.2 million||1|
|14. Alec Martinez, LAK||RD||31||36||3||11||US $ 4 million||2|
|15. Kevin Hayes, NYR||W||26||40||10||33||US $ 5.18 million||UFA|
|16. Brayden Schenn, STL||W||27||45||9||27||US $ 5.13 million||1|
|17. Colton Parayko, STL||RD||25||49||8||13||US $ 5.5 million||3|
|18. Jeff Carter, LAK||W||33||49||10||25||US $ 5.27 million||3|
|19. Cody Ceci, OTT||RD||24||46||5||15||US $ 4.3 million||RFA|
|20. Brett Pesce, CAR||RD||23||41||3||11||US $ 4.03 million||5|
|21. Alex Edler, VAN||LD||32||36||5||20||US $ 5 million||UFA|
|22. Andre Burakovsky, WSH||LW||23||44||6||12||US $ 3 million||RFA|
|23. Marcus Johansson, NJD||LW||28||37||7||17||US $ 4.58 million||UFA|
|24. Chris Kreider, NYR||LW||27||49||22||37||US $ 4.63 million||1|
|25. Mark Stone, OTT||RW||26||50||22||50||US $ 7.35 million||UFA|
|26. Nick Bjugstad, FLA||C / RW||26||32||5||12||US $ 4.1 million||2|
|27. Justin Faulk, CAR||RD||26||50||3||17||US $ 4.83 million||1|
|28. Alex Steen, STL||LW||34||35||6||15||US $ 5.75 million||2|
|29. Jay Bouwmeester, STL||LD||35||45||2||10||US $ 5.4 million||UFA|
|30. Kasperi Kapanen, TOR||RW||22||49||15||30||US $ 863 thousand||RFA|
|31. Andreas Johnsson, TOR||LW||24||43||10||22||US $ 788 thousand||RFA|
|32. Ryan Dzingel, OTT||LW||26||48||20||38||US $ 1.8 million||UFA|
|33. Patrick Maroon, STL||LW||30||41||4||14||US $ 1.75 million||UFA|
|34. Jesse Puljujarvi, EDM||RW||20||39||4||9||US $ 925 thousand||RFA|
|35. Adam McQuaid, NYR||RD||32||25||0||3||US $ 2.75 million||UFA|
|36. Niklas Kronwall, DET||LD||38||48||2||14||US $ 4.75 million||UFA|
|37. Bogdan Kiselvich, FLA||LD||28||31||0||8||US $ 925 thousand||UFA|
|38. Chris Tanev, VAN||RD||29||46||2||10||US $ 4.45 million||1|
|39. Vlad Namestnikov, NYR||LW||25||45||4||16||US $ 4 million||1|
|40. Carl Hagelin, LAK||LW||30||29||2||6||US $ 4 million||UFA|
|41. Nathan Beaulieu, BUF||LD||26||26||3||7||US $ 2.4 million||RFA|
|42. Dale Weise, PHI||RW||30||42||5||11||US $ 2.35 million||1|
|43. Mikkel Boedker, OTT||LW||29||50||5||27||US $ 4 million||1|
|44. Sam Gagner, VAN||RW||29||7||1||3||US $ 3.15 million||1|
|45. Jeff Skinner, BUF||LW||26||49||31||45||US $ 5.73 million||UFA|
No. 5: Maple Leafs pick in the first round – Toronto to Los Angeles on January 28
No. 13: Chris Wideman – Ottawa to Edmonton on November 22
No. 14: Tanner Pearson – Los Angeles to Pittsburgh on November 14
No. 17: Jake Muzzin – Los Angeles to Toronto on January 28
No. 27: Alex Petrovic – Florida to Edmonton on December 29
No. 27: Nino Niederreiter – Minnesota for Carolina on January 17
No. 28: Brandon Manning – Chicago to Edmonton on December 29
No. 35: Michael Del Zotto – Vancouver to Anaheim on January 16
No. 35: Jamie Oleksiak – Pittsburgh to Dallas on January 29
No. 36: Luke Schenn – Anaheim to Vancouver on January 16
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli