In the sport of hockey, the success of an individual team usually comes down to the moves a general manager makes. From personnel of the team to hiring staff, the general manager is a very important person to a professional hockey team.This applies to the Columbus Blue Jackets as they face a very pivotal offseason. Jarmo Kekalainen, GM of the Blue Jackets, has yet to call the current status of the team as a rebuilding team. From what has been said in press conferences and press releases, Kekalainen is very confident in the current state of the team. Kekalainen’s confidence could end up being the demise of him if things don’t go according to plan. The pressure is on Jarmo Kekalainen in Columbus now.
In the 2020 NHL Draft, Columbus surprised many analysts when they took Yegor Chinakhov with the 21st pick in the draft. Kekalainen was very high on the Russian forward heading into the draft. Many analysts believed that Chinakhov had a third-round grade on him.
In hindsight, the pick doesn’t look terrible. Chinakhov is coming off a year where he earned the KHL rookie of the year award. By the looks of it, it doesn’t appear Chinakhov will hold out on playing in the NHL either, so Columbus didn’t entirely waste the pick.
Columbus can’t afford to go off the wall when they select fifth overall in the 2021 draft. With three first-round picks in the upcoming draft, Columbus needs to make smart moves.
They currently have nine total picks in the draft. None of those picks include a second-round pick in the draft. Whether or not Columbus decides to use one of their first-round picks to trade back and acquire more picks is up to Kekalainen. Regardless of what he decides to do, it may be best to play it safe instead of taking huge risks.
New Coaching Staff
Brad Larsen was hired last week to take over for John Tortorella as head coach. The move came at a surprise to some hockey fans when Larsen was hired over names like Gerard Gallant and David Quinn. Both Gallant and Quinn have NHL coaching experience that Larsen lacks.
Kekalainen was very confident that Larsen was the right hire. While some fans disagreed with the decision, Kekalainen stood by his decision. Kekalainen still needs to fill out the coaching staff around Larsen and if the Brad Larsen experiment doesn’t pan out, Kekalainen may follow him out the door.
In year’s past, Jarmo Kekalainen isn’t afraid to make big splashes in free agency. From acquiring Brandon Saad to trading for Artemi Panarin to signing Gustav Nyquist, Kekalainen has quite the track record.
This year, a lot of the emphasis will be on the expansion draft and re-signing key players. On Thursday, Kekalainen and Kevin Stenlund agreed to a one-year contract for $1 million. The contract makes Stenlund eligible for the expansion draft and is a fair cap hit for the young center.
That leaves $23 million to re-sign other key players such as Patrik Laine, Alexandre Texier, Mikko Lehtonen, Michael Del Zotto, Andrew Peeke, and other depth players. It will be a tall task for Kekalainen but it can be done.
On top of that, Kekalainen may be looking to move Seth Jones before the NHL Draft. Jones recently stated he didn’t want to sign a long-term deal with Columbus, so Jones may be shipped out over the summer.
Bottom line is Kekalainen needs to perform in free agency this summer. Laine needs to re-sign and if Jones is shipped out, the return better be good. All of the pressure is on Kekalainen to put Columbus in a position to compete in the 2021-2022 season. If he doesn’t do that, Columbus may have a vacancy at GM to fill in 2022.
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Cover Photo Courtesy of theathletic.com