Free washer | Jarmo Kekalainen’s record is difficult to defend

Unsurprisingly, Jarmo Kekalainen was just fired from his position as general manager in Columbus.

Since the start of his reign in 2013, the identity of the Blue Jackets has never been clear: club in reconstruction? Resetting? Looking for instant success? The Jackets were a bit of all that at the same time, hence the confusion…

Columbus will miss the playoffs this spring for the sixth time in eleven seasons since the arrival of Kekalainen, the first European general manager in NHL history. They have passed the first round only once, in 2019, but never the second.

The Blue Jackets have drafted fifteen times in the first round in eleven drafts since 2013, including five times in the top ten, and three times in the top 5. Better results were hoped for.

We could expect a significant phase of rejuvenation in Columbus when Kekalainen was hired in 2013. This Finn had built a very enviable reputation as a recruiter in Ottawa, then in St. Louis. We owe him the selections of Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo, Jaden Schwartz and TJ Oshie, among others.

Kekalainen inherited three first-round picks upon his arrival in 2013 since his predecessor, Scott Howson, had started a fire sale in 2012 by trading its two stars Rick Nash and Jeff Carter.

It was not a great vintage, it must be admitted, Kekalainen was in Finland between 2010 and 2013 to manage Jokerit and he also had to rely on the recruiting staff already in place. He nevertheless hit the target three times, Alexander Wennberg (14e), Kerby Rychel (19e) and Marko Dano (27e). Wennberg didn’t become a bad player, he even had 59 points in his third full season, but he quickly became a supporting player in the National League.

However, we did not yet know this at the time and everything pointed towards a reconstruction initiated by Howson. Kekalainen instead obtained, in his first major transaction, a star of the hour at the time, Marian Gaborik, from the Rangers, 41 goals the previous season, but already aged 31, for one of the youngest players promising members of the organization, Derick Brassard, 25 years old.

A disastrous exchange. Gaborik played in just 22 games the following season before being dealt to the Kings a year later for second and third round picks and a fringe player. Brassard would become an important player in New York and play eleven seasons in the NHL to reach 1013 games.

Around the same time, the Jackets had an undrafted 23-year-old forward on their farm club, but one of the good point producers in Springfield. But the Falcons had high aspirations heading into the playoffs, while the Lightning farm club was not going to participate.

Kekalainen thus extracted two experienced players from the Syracuse Crunch to strengthen his club, Dana Tyrell and Matt Taormina, in return for Dalton Smith and this young 23-year-old player… a certain Jonathan Marchessault.

Kekalainen struck a big blow in 2015, it must be admitted, by obtaining a number one defender, Seth Jones, fourth overall pick in 2013, for a slightly overvalued big center, Ryan Johansen. This spectacular exchange probably gave him five years of grace.

His management during the draft of the expansion of executives with the arrival of the Vegas Golden Knights was not optimal. Three forwards were expected to be protected due to their full no-trade clause, Nick Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky and Scott Hartnell. Kekalainen rounded out his roster with Wennberg, Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner and Brandon Saad.

He gave the Golden Knights their first-round pick, 24e overall, and a second-round pick to get rid of David Clarkson’s contract and ensure Vegas drafts William Karlsson and not Josh Anderson. No one suspected that Karlsson would score 43 for the Golden Knights after a 6-goal, 25-point season in 81 games, but seven years later, Karlsson racked up 341 points in 473 games at Nevada.

But the Blue Jackets, to everyone’s surprise, had just reached their peak in 2016-2017 with a record of 50-24-8 and fourth place overall, under the leadership of coach John Tortorella, before being surprised by the Penguins in the first playoff round. The arrival of Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad in June 2017 would allow the Blue Jackets to grow even more, it was hoped.

The tipping point came in 2018-2019. The team had high aspirations, but Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky indicated early in the season their intention to test the free agent market starting in July 2019, or at least not sign a contract extension with the club.

Kekalainen surprised the NHL with his immense poker move. Not only did he not trade his two stars at the trade deadline to avoid losing them for nothing in return, but he sacrificed a first-round pick and two second-round picks to acquire two more possible unrestricted free agents, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, to strengthen the club and hope for a breakthrough in the playoffs.

After surprising the Lightning in the first round, they were eliminated by Boston in six games in the second. A few months later, Panarin, Bobrovsky, Duchene and Dzingel were gone…

There is speculation of a rejuvenation phase in 2021 when the Blue Jackets obtain first-round picks for David Savard and Nick Foligno at the trade deadline, then sacrifice their best defenseman, Seth Jones, for two first-round picks and the young defender Adam Boqvist.

But Kekalainen confuses us again by hiring striker Johnny Gaudreau, 29, in July 2022 for seven years and 68 million with a club that is far from aspirational.

At the end of Gaudreau’s lackluster first season, Kekalainen posed as a seller at the trade deadline by trading Joonas Korpisalo and Vladimir Gavrikov for a Kings first-round pick.

We therefore find Gaudreau, a little alone, overpaid, with a group of young people still too green to launch Columbus to the top. Last summer, Kekalainen used the Kings’ first pick to acquire defenseman Ivan Provorov and gave an insane eight-year contract for $50 million to 29-year-old defenseman Damon Severson, who was relegated to the third pair in New Jersey.

The Mike Babcock fiasco will have put an end to the patience of the owners. Columbus finds himself today at 29e rank in the general classification, after a 31e place last year, with a CEO who wanted to win in the short term.

Kekalainen’s successor will nevertheless find himself in an enviable position: a choice in the top 5 this summer, and a bunch of young firsts within the organization, Adam Fantilli, David Jiricek, Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger, Kirill Marchenko, Denton Mateychuk, Gavin Brindley, Yegor Chinakhov and Jordan Dumais, not to mention Zach Werenski still aged Only 26 years old.

You just have to find direction. There is sometimes a misconception that good talent evaluators will make good general managers. You must first be a good manager.

THE coded will it be respected?


Brendan Gallagher

In March 2019, after having served a three-game suspension for a vicious hit against defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, Paul Byron had to lay down the gloves against Weegar in his first game against the Panthers two months later. Byron had to respect the coded, it seems, even if he had been punished by the NHL. The Canadian striker suffered a violent knockout. He was never the same after that.

Brendan Gallagher just completed a five-game suspension for his sneaky check on Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech. He will face the Rangers on Thursday evening. Gallagher said he called Pelech following the incident to apologize. The Canadian faces the Islanders on April 11. Let’s see if Gallagher will have to follow this stupid code too.


Leave a Comment