Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager, Jarmo Kekalainen may have the last laugh

Jarmo Kekalainen, tried to tell us. He never wavered in his assessment of the Columbus Blue Jackets roster he put together. While media outlets and fans not to mention hockey experts scoffed at the notion that the Blue Jackets were not reloading but about to enter a full-blown rebuild. Kekalainen insisted his team was indeed reloading. At 7-3, tying the best start in franchise history, Jarmo Kekalainen has to be grinning.

COLUMBUS, OH – November 6th: Alexandre Texier #42 of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrates with teammates after his goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the third period at Nationwide Arena on November 6th, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Ben Jackson/NHLI via Getty Images)

What is going on with the Columbus Blue Jackets? A massive roster overhaul chalked full of young players, some of which have barely any NHL experience while others are rookies sprinkled with some veterans have the Blue Jackets playing well.

I dare say not many people (myself included) saw this coming. Yet, here the Blue Jackets are and it appears they are not going away anytime soon. Is this a playoff team? It is still early in the season so that is difficult to forecast. That is not to say they are not. After the start they have had and as young players seem to be getting better with each game played, anything is possible.

Gritty, savvy, undeterred, pick one. Shoot pick all three. This is what I feel best describes the start of the 2021-22 Columbus Blue Jackets season. It has been very good to witness the job head coach Brad Larsen and his coaching staff has done. From game preparation to in-game adjustments Larsen is pushing all the right buttons.

Sure the 3 losses were clunkers, that said every team has clunker games during the course of the season including would be Stanley Cup champions. The bad games aside, the Blue Jackets have bounced back after the bad losses to win the next game played.

NEWARK, NJ – OCTOBER 31: Head Coach Brad Larsen of the Columbus Blue Jackets reacts to a call on the ice from the bench against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 31, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

While a losing streak could turn up, so could a winning streak. How about the third periods for the Blue Jackets? In what use to be a bad timeframe the Blue Jackets are now finding a way to finish games. In fact, Columbus is making a  thing out of third period comebacks and wins.

This is the team that Jarmo Kekalainen has put together. With it doubters have been silenced.

Will the revamping Columbus Blue Jackets be Jarmo Kekalainen’s last stand

The Columbus Blue Jackets just concluded the most successful run in team history. As the organization and fans said goodbye to many familiar faces who helped push the Blue Jackets to four Stanley Cup Playoff appearances the team has embarked on a fresh start. A start that began with a very good 2021 NHL Draft and has fans excited about the future. Yet the revamping will last at least two years and a lot can happen.

Columbus Blue Jackets general manager, Jarmo Kekalainen built a nice hockey team and one that tasted some playoff success. As good as those Blue Jackets teams were there was something missing. The defense was good, the goalies and wingers as well. But the team lacked top talent at center.

SECAUCUS, NEW JERSEY – JULY 23: With the 12th pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the Columbus Blue Jackets select Cole Sillinger during the first round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft at the NHL Network studios on July 23, 2021 in Secaucus, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Enter Kent Johnson and Cole Sillinger both centers, both taken by the Blue Jackets with the first two of the teams three first round draft picks. Johnson and Sillinger give the Blue Jackets some very good talent at a position that needs it most.

Kekalainen is revamping the Blue Jackets from the back out. His blue line (defense) looks as good as it ever has only younger. Players like Patrik Laine are young and talented.

As with any revamping it comes with huge question marks. For instance Can the organization repeat another strong draft next year? It absolutely must if the revamping is not  to suffer a setback.

Defensemen Zach Werenski received a massive contract last week. Will there be any more such contracts handed out like to say Laine? That remains to be seen.

COLUMBUS, OH – SEPTEMBER 11: Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen addresses members of the media during Media Day at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, OH on September 11, 2019. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As much success that Kekalainen helped the Blue Jackets achieve, a revamping comes with stress. The long time GM needs to be shrewd and fearless. So far so good. Yet if there are any miss steps it would be disastrous to the timeline of getting back into contending for playoff spots.

This could be a case of the Columbus Blue Jackets allowing Jarmo Kekalainen to prove he can put a winner on the ice if not………………….

Why General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen is right to rebuild the Columbus Blue Jackets

A new era of Columbus Blue Jackets hockey is coming. That is the good news. The bad news it is not going to happen overnight. Blue Jackets General Manager, Jarmo Kekalainen who just oversaw a very good draft by the organization has given the franchise a jump start on this new era. So why was this the right thing to do? Let’s dive in.

COLUMBUS, OH – NOVEMBER 15: Zach Werenski #8 of the Columbus Blue Jackets reacts after scoring the game-winning overtime goal against the St. Louis Blues on November 15, 2019 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

After a four year playoff stretch that saw the Columbus Blue Jackets lead by then head coach John Tortorella, sweep the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019, the Blue Jackets began the decent that made the timing for a new era both needed and warranted.

As cornerstone players to the four years of playoff hockey have been traded off for a couple players and more importantly draft assets (picks,)  Kekalainen all but ripped the band aid off and tore the foundation of his team down to the studs.

The moves that sent ripples across Columbus as fans wondered what in the world was going on is absolutely justifiable. I say that because making the hard moves shows the Kekalainen  was not going to stand pat and allow his team to sink so low with nothing in the minor leagues which would have been a nightmare. As a rebuild would have taken much longer.

Take the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals respectfully. Both teams have enjoyed prolonged success and have won Stanley Cup’s. Winning comes at a cost. It always does. The Penguins and Capitals now have aging rosters full of bloated nearly untradeable contracts.

As both the Penguins and Capitals window for winning is closing both franchises are set to endure long and painful rebuilds. One that it seems Jarmo Kekalainen wanted to avoid.

SECAUCUS, NEW JERSEY – JUNE 02: : 2021 NHL Draft Lottery positions are seen on June 02, 2021 at the NHL Network’s studio in Secaucus, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

While new era’s take time to take hold, the 2021 NHL Draft proved a launching pad for the Columbus Blue Jackets who were widely viewed as the draft weekend winners.

The players selected will be part of the next wave of playoff hockey in Columbus. Which thanks to shrewd moves by Kekalainen has been sped up.

The Columbus Blue Jackets trade Cam Atkinson as a new future awaits

In roughly 100 days the Columbus Blue Jackets under the guidance of general manager Jarmo Kekalainen have traded Nick Foligno, David Savard, Seth Jones and today another long time Blue Jacket joined the list, Cam Atkinson. With that a successful era of Blue Jackets hockey has closed. Yet, Kekalainen and the team he runs were the big winners of the 2021 NHL Draft.

Jarmo Kekalainen said the goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and that has not happened. Kekalainen went on to say it is hard to say goodbye to players that made up the core of the Blue Jackets 4 year playoff run. But sometimes hard decisions need to and must be made.

COLUMBUS, OH – JANUARY 16: Seth Jones #3 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates against the Carolina Hurricanes on January 16, 2020 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

It is never fun to see players that have helped a team and have done great things in community get traded away. But professional sports is a business. The trading of four cornerstone players was absolutely not personal. It was business driven.

Nick Foligo and David Savard were traded at the deadline for first round draft picks. Seth Jones was traded for Adam Boqvist, a 2022 first round draft pick and other picks. Cam Atkinson was shipped to the Philadelphia Flyers for former Blue Jacket, Jakub Voracek.

Many Blue Jackets fans were angry that Atkinson was moved as he beloved and a fan favorite. A deeper look at the trade shows why Kekalainen was right to bring Vorcek back.

Cam Atkinson is a good player and gifted goal scorer. Atkinson lacks assists which is one reason Vorcek was brought in. Vorcek is an assist machine. That is good news for Patrik Laine who needs the puck passed to him so he can do what he does best, fill the net.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – JANUARY 27: Jakub Vorcek #93 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates the puck against the Arizona Coyotes on January 27, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Columbus Blue Jackets power play has been mostly powerless the past few seasons. During the past eight season Vorcek has 142 power play assists. So Columbus is getting a player who can help generate more offensive opportunities that Atkinson was able to.

While shake-up is never fun there are times it needs to be done. In my opinion Jarmo Kekalainen was correct in trading players and reshape the future of the Blue Jackets. So far so good.

 

 

The Columbus Blue Jackets bring back John Davidson as President of team operations

It is happening. John Davidson is returning to the Columbus Blue Jackets, completing the homecoming Blue Jackets fans wanted to see. The news was broken by Brian Hedger and Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch. Davidson who left the Blue Jackets after the 2019 season to take the same position with the New York Rangers was surprisingly fired after just two seasons in New York.

John Davidson (JD, as known in NHL circles) helped to build the Columbus Blue Jackets into a playoff team. His “brick by brick” mantra was well received by the Blue Jackets fan base and the team embraced it as well.

COLUMBUS, OH – SEPTEMBER 11: President of Hockey Operations John Davidson of the Columbus Blue Jackets poses for his headshot on September 11, 2014 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Davidson is a giant in the NHL and is highly regarded throughout the league which is why his firing sent shock waves through the NHL. Building a bottom feeder in Columbus into a playoff team endeared him to the city of Columbus Ohio.

The fact is a man with the stature of Davidson has help the Blue Jackets attract free agents as well as gets players to sign extensions. That will surly happen again. This time the Blue Jackets have more salary cap space. They also have players that need contracts such as Seth Jones.

In more good news the Blue Jackets have extended John Davidson’s right hand man and the person he hand picked as General Manager, Jarmo Kekalainen. The two worked so well in the past the Blue Jackets are banking on the two continuing their solid work.

NEWARK, NJ – JUNE 30: President of Hockey Operations John Davidson of the Columbus Blue Jackets sits with general Manager Jarmo Kekalainen during the 2013 NHL Draft at Prudential Center on June 30, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Blue Jackets team President Mike Priest said of both Davidson and Kekalainen, “John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen worked tirelessly and effectively together to transform our hockey club from a team with one Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance in 12 seasons to one that reached the postseason five times in seven years from 2013-20.”

In Columbus Ohio for the rabid Blue Jackets fan base it has been a very good fulfilling 24 hours. The offseason has started with a bang.

Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager, Jarmo Kekalainen knows what he wants in a head coach

Exit John Tortorella. The winningest coach in Columbus Blue Jackets history. During Tortorella’a six year run as Blue Jackets head coach he guided the team to a 447-227-166- .568 record and took the Blue Jackets to the playoffs four times. Tortorella was also brutally honest and had a short leash for any and all players who messed up during games. Many big named players were benched for long periods of time when they drew Tortorella’s ire. After the 2020-21 Blue Jackets season, John Tortorella and the team mutually agreed to part ways.

TORONTO, ONTARIO – AUGUST 11: Head coach John Tortorella of the Columbus Blue Jackets handles bench duties during the second period against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game One of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on August 11, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

What is next for the Columbus Blue Jackets and a new head coach? GM Jarmo Kekalainen gave a strong look into what he is looking for in the next bench boss. “I think it’s important the coach sets the standard, I think that’s why Torts was so good. He set the standard every day of how we work here and what we do and how we go about our business. I think that’s really important, how you go about it. There are different personalities, but I think strong values and the standard, that’s the key to the selection process that we have here.”

Kekalainen met for hours with Blue Jacket players. He said it was an honest meeting in which he asked what the players want in the next head coach. From the difficult to work with Tortorella, players would like a more player friendly coach.

That does not mean push-over! It means a coach who will coach in games and not bench for a simple mistake made.  That seems reasonable. John Tortorella showed the Blue Jackets what it takes to win. That should never be lost. In spite of a bad season the Blue Jackets still have a very good hockey team and should rebound with the right coach.

COLUMBUS, OH – FEBRUARY 2: Assistant Coach Brad Shaw of the Columbus Blue Jackets watches his team play against the San Jose Sharks on February 2, 2018 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Defensive coach Brad Shaw is also leaving the Blue Jackets so he is not a candidate to take over as head coach and will not receive an interview. I have a hard time believing assistant coach Brad Larsen will be named coach. Larsen oversaw the Blue Jackets power play for years. A unit that was near the bottom of the NHL on a regular basis.

Who will succeed John Tortorella? That remains a mystery only Kekalainen can answer. An answer that may not be made public until after the playoffs.

How badly did the Columbus Blue Jackets miss Gustav Nyquist? More than you think

The Columbus Blue Jackets had a bad season. The team still has plenty of talent, enough to climb back into playoff contention next season. During the disappointing 2020-21 campaign the Blue Jackets were with a player who as it turned out was more important than perhaps thought. Gustav (Gus) Nyquist.

Before the season began Gus Nyquist had shoulder surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Nyquist had been dealing with the injury for the past few seasons. The reason for the surgery was a cyst had grown causing further irritation to the shoulder.

During the COVID shortened 2019-20 season in 70 games played, Gus Nyquist had 15 goals, 42 points with 27 assists. A deeper look shows that with modest numbers that do not necessarily jump off the screen, Nyquist still had tremendous value to the Blue Jackets that are not measured in statistics alone.

COLUMBUS, OH – JANUARY 22: Dmitry Kulikov #7 of the Winnipeg Jets reaches to knock the puck away from Gustav Nyquist #14 of the Columbus Blue Jackets during the third period of a game on January 22, 2020 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Gustav Nyquist is very good at puck battles. He is relentless in pursuit of the puck. Nyquist has a habit of fighting hard for the puck and usually comes away with it. Nyquist also may be the best passer on the Blue Jackets roster. If not the best he is one of them.

This past season, the Columbus Blue Jackets missed Nyquist in those two areas. Puck battles and better passes which lead to better shots. Those are areas the Blue Jackets needed rather badly this past season.

Gus Nyquist was never going to play this season due to recovery time from surgery. Even though he started to skate with the team in March. Next season, one the should see a better one ice product from the Blue Jackets they will have Nyquist back. That will help quite a bit.

September 16 2015: Jarmo Kekalainen General Manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets talking to media during Media Day held by the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena in Columbus Ohio (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen  is going to be busy this offseason. He has player such as Seth Jones and Zach Werenski who need new contracts. Kekalainen also needs to find a top center and either sign one as a free agent or trade for one.

If there is one GM up to the task it is Jarmo Kekalainen.