Free washing machine | Jarmo Kekalainen dismissed: a difficult record to defend

As expected, Jarmo Kekalainen was just fired from his general manager position in Columbus.

Since the start of their reign in 2013, the Blue Jackets’ identity has never been clear: rebuilding club? Restart? Looking for instant success? The Jackets were a little bit of all of 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 only passed the first round once, in 2019, but never the second.

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

We could expect a major rejuvenation phase in Columbus when Kekalainen was hired in 2013. This Finn had earned a very enviable reputation as a recruiter in Ottawa and 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, as his predecessor, Scott Howson, had begun a clearance sale in 2012 by trading its two stars Rick Nash and Jeff Carter.

It wasn’t a great harvest, admittedly, Kekalainen was in Finland between 2010 and 2013 to run Jokerit and also had to rely on the recruiting staff that already existed. However, he hit the target three times: Alexander Wennberg (14my), Kerby Rychel (19my) and Marko Dano (27my). Wennberg didn’t become a bad player, even scoring 59 points in his third full season, but he quickly became a bit player in the National League.

However, at that time we still did not know and everything pointed to a reconstruction initiated by Howson. Instead, Kekalainen got, in his first major transaction, a star of the moment, Marian Gaborik, of the Rangers, 41 goals the previous season, but already at 31 years old, for one of the youngest and most promising players in the organization, Derick. Brassard, 25 years old.

A disastrous exchange. Gaborik played only 22 games the following season before being traded 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 would play eleven seasons in the NHL, reaching 1,013 games.

Around the same time, the Jackets had a 23-year-old forward undrafted in their farm club, but one of the good point producers in Springfield. But the Falcons had high aspirations for 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 exchange for Dalton Smith and this young 23-year-old player… a certain Jonathan Marchessault.

To his credit, Kekalainen made a big splash in 2015 by acquiring a No. 1 defenseman, Seth Jones, the fourth overall pick in 2013, instead of a slightly overrated big man, Ryan Johansen. This spectacular exchange probably gave him five years of grace.

His management during the executive expansion draft 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 filled out his roster with Wennberg, Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner and Brandon Saad.

He gave the Golden Knights their first-round pick, 24my overall, and a second-round pick to get rid of David Clarkson’s contract and ensure Vegas selects William Karlsson and not Josh Anderson. No one suspected 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 peaked in 2016-2017 with a 50-24-8 record and a fourth-place finish overall, under coach John Tortorella, before being blindsided by the Penguins in the first playoff. round. The arrival of Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad in June 2017 was expected to allow the Blue Jackets to grow even more.

The turning point occurred in 2018-2019. The team available for great aspirations, but Panarin and the gardener Sergei Bobrovsky ont manifested the debut of the season with the intention of testing the march of the autonomous players at the end of July 2019, without the sign of contract prolongation with the club.

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

After shocking 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 disappeared…

There is speculation of a rejuvenation phase in 2021 when the Blue Jackets get 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 forward 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 first-round pick from the Kings.

Therefore, we 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 a crazy eight-year, $50 million contract to 29-year-old defenseman Damon Severson, who was relegated to the third pair in New Jersey .

The Mike Babcock fiasco will have worn out the patience of the owners. Today Columbus is 29 years classified in the general classification, after a 31my place last year, with a CEO who wanted to win in the short term.

However, Kekalainen’s successor will find himself in an enviable position: an election in the the 5 best this summer, and a group of young pioneers 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 who still has only 26 years. old.

You just have to find the address. There is sometimes a misconception that good talent evaluators will make good general managers. First you must be a good administrator.

He code Will it be respected?


Brendan Gallagher

In March 2019, after serving a three-game suspension for a brutal hit on 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 code, apparently, 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. They will face the Rangers on Thursday night. Gallagher said he called Pelech after 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.

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