When the NHL trade deadline hit in February, the biggest questions surrounded the Columbus Blue Jackets. They had two of the biggest stars in Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, and it seemed general manager Jarmo Kekalainen would trade them so they wouldn't leave at the end of the season when they were free agents.
However, Kekalainen took the opposite approach by bringing Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel into the fold in separate trades with the Ottawa Senators. The GM made those moves in order to strengthen a bid to make the playoffs and then deliver a postseason run once they get there.
While the Blue Jackets still have time to make the plan work, it is touch and go whether they will make the playoffs. Columbus suffered a disheartening 2-0 defeat to the New York Islanders Monday night.
The Blue Jackets are holding onto the eighth and final spot in the playoffs even though they are tied with the Montreal Canadiens. Both teams have 79 points, but the Blue Jackets rate the tiebreaker edge because they have three more regulation or overtime wins (37-34) than the Habs.
The Panarin and Bobrovsky situations have not changed, and both have a chance to make free-agent deals at the conclusion of the season. The former is a skilled scorer who can make any team better, and he will be highly sought after by a number of teams.
One of those teams is almost certainly going to be the Florida Panthers. General manager Dale Tallon pursued Panarin prior to the trade deadline, but he was not able to complete a deal with the Blue Jackets.
However, Tallon told George Richards of The Athletic that the Panthers were not interested in making a deal for a potential free agent like Panarin only to have him walk away in the offseason. They would have only made the deal if they could have gotten his signature on a long-term contract.
The GM is not discouraged, though, and said the team will not slow down its pursuit of star players in the offseason.
"We are going to be very aggressive after the season. We have lots of (cap) room and a lot of picks," Tallon said. "We will turn this into a positive thing."
Tallon has thrown down the gauntlet and let the rest of the league know that the Panthers will be in pursuit of Panarin, Bobrovsky and other top free agents. He may not have gotten either man in February but he will make every effort to be successful in July.
Oilers are in no hurry to sign new GM
The Edmonton Oilers have been languishing most of the season, and as they make a desperate effort for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, they are doing so without the benefit of a general manager.
The Oilers fired Peter Chiarelli in January, and chief executive officer Bob Nicholson is not trying to fill the opening quickly.
Nicholson was at the league's general manager meetings in Florida last week, and he appeared to be adding to his list of candidates instead of paring it down, according to a report by Sportsnet's Chris Johnston during Hockey Night in Canada's Headliners segment.
Keith Gretzky is handling the role of general manager while the position remains vacant, and the team does not appear in any hurry to make a move.
Nicholson said the key is to get the hire right, no matter how long it takes.
"I've got to make sure," Nicholson said, per Joshua Clipperton of the Canadian Press (h/t CBC.ca). "That could be in the first interview. That could be in the seventh or eighth interview.
"Hopefully I'll know when the right person is there."
Kronwall undecided on his future
Veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall knew his name came up at the trade deadline. However, the longtime Detroit Red Wings blue liner was not interested in moving on from the Motor City, even if it might have meant playing for a Stanley Cup contender.
The 38-year-old is in his 15th season with the Red Wings, and general manager Ken Holland reportedly received calls about Kronwall's services from the Toronto Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets, per Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News.
Now the trade deadline has passed, Kronwall has one more decision to make: Will he be back in Detroit next fall for a 16th season with the Red Wings?