BOCA RATON, Fla. — Jarmo Kekalainen received more than a few thumbs up from fellow general managers after his bold moves ahead of the NHL trade deadline.
Time will tell if the gambles pay off.
The GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets took some huge risks in a dizzying four-day stretch prior to Feb. 25, dealing for centre Matt Duchene and winger Ryan Dzingel in separate deals with the Ottawa Senators before adding backup goalie Keith Kinkaid from the New Jersey Devils and defenceman Adam McQuaid from the New York Rangers.
— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) February 23, 2019
All four players are on expiring contracts and can become unrestricted free agents this summer.
Costs & Risks With Kekalainen’s Strategy
To complete the transactions, Kekalainen surrendered winger Anthony Duclair, forward prospects Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson, as well as six draft picks, including a first-rounder and two seconds. There was also a conditional first-rounder included in the Duchene deal if he re-signs in Columbus.
“There’s definitely risk,” Kekalainen said at this week’s GM meetings in Florida. “Would I take it again?
Related THW Content: Blue Jackets’ Trades Inject Life to Team, Fanbase
Heaping more pressure on the Blue Jackets to not only get in the playoffs, but win the franchise’s first-ever post-season round, is the fact star winger Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky — a two-time Vezina Trophy winner — could walk for nothing as UFAs.
“Maybe they’re here for the last time or last spring, and we’re going to enjoy it while it lasts,” Kekalainen added. “That’s why we felt (we should) add to the group and give it our best shot.
“Then we’ll look at our group on July 1 and see where we’re at.”
The Blue Jackets had a tenuous hold on third place in the Metropolitan Division when the clock ticked past the trade deadline, but are just 2-3-0 since to fall two points back of the Montreal Canadiens for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, albeit with a game in hand.
“Adding good players, to me, should always improve your team,” Kekalainen said. “It probably takes a little time for each player to come together on your team and get familiar with the style of play, but these guys are all pros.”
No stranger to making trades, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford was impressed with the conviction of his division rival’s moves.
“He, rightfully so, feels his team’s in position to take that next step,” Rutherford said. “He gave his team the best chance to be successful. There’s some years where guys make the decision not to do anything, and some years where they make the decision Jarmo did.
“I think it was good on his part. You have to take chances.”
Blue Jackets Deep Talent Helps
Kekalainen said the franchise’s deep pool of young talent currently outside the NHL allowed him to push his chips into the middle of the table.
“We kept our top prospects (including 2018 first-rounder Liam Foudy) on the forward side,” Kekalainen said. “If you get two players out of seven (from a draft), you’re doing an above-average job in the league.
“Draft picks are valuable, yeah, but they’re only draft picks.”
Kekalainen, who only has third- and seventh-round selections remaining in the 2019 draft cupboard, said he heard from a number of GMs in the wake of his wheeling and dealing.
“I don’t have any second guessing,” he said. “After we do our due diligence and make our decisions, then we move forward and live with our decisions. And I’d do it again.”
There’s also an underlying feeling throughout the hockey world that teams willing to make bold moves should be rewarded — perhaps giving other GMs the impetus to follow Kekalainen’s path at future trade deadlines.
“It makes it exciting for the fans,” Rutherford said. “When a team does that … not at our expense, but you like to see them do well.”
Related THW Content – 2019 NHL Trade Deadline: Deal Tracker
Rutherford’s Penguins were on the outside of the playoff picture looking in at the deadline, but victories in three of their last four (3-0-1) has Pittsburgh in the East’s first wild-card spot, even on points with Montreal with a game in hand. It’s still an unfamiliar position for the 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup champions. “It’s stressful for everybody,” Rutherford said. “We hope that the inconsistency goes away down the stretch here. If it does, we’ll be well-prepared for the playoffs. But it’s going to be tight right down to the end.”
Bunch of Jerks
Don Cherry called them a “bunch of jerks” for their elaborate post-game celebrations, but the Carolina Hurricanes have struck a chord with fans this season. And GM Don Waddell loves it. The Hurricanes have actually embraced the “bunch of jerks” moniker bestowed on them by the famed hockey commentator, adding it to their official Twitter page and selling merchandise with the slogan.
Putting the new projection system to good use pic.twitter.com/qBxHNSGEJe
— Tom Dundon (@TDCanes) February 27, 2019
“The one thing that I started to get concerned about with the ‘bunch of jerks’ is when somebody called me the head jerk,” Waddell deadpanned. “This doesn’t work in a lot of markets. But in our market — especially because our players came up with it — we’ve been able to capitalize on some people’s remarks. (The celebrations are) all done in fun, not to embarrass anybody or show off.”
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Joshua Clipperton’s weekly NHL notebook is published every Wednesday
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press