Jarmo Kekalainen has developed a reputation over the years as being a general manager willing to make a splash.
The long-serving Columbus Blue Jackets executive stunned the hockey world when he traded for Artemi Panarin back in 2017. He did it again by signing Johnny Gaudreau last summer.
This time around, Kekalainen has seemingly jumped ahead of the pack by trading for Ivan Provorov from the Philadelphia Flyers and zeroing in on the divisive Mike Babcock as his head coach of choice.
The Blue Jackets have never advanced past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs during Kekalainen’s managerial tenure. They missed entirely in back-to-back seasons under recently-fired head coach Brad Larsen.
On Wednesday’s edition of Daily Faceoff Live, hosts Frank Seravalli and Colby Cohen checked in with The Athletic‘s Aaron Portzline to discuss whether Kekalainen’s big moves might be a sign of confidence in his group — or desperation.
Colby Cohen: Well, Aaron, obviously the Mike Babcock thing caught me off-guard. My first thought was, ‘Geez, Johnny Gaudreau goes from Sutter to Babcock,’ and I’ll be interested to get his read on it when I catch up with him this summer. But it seems like Kekalainen has a longer leash than a lot of general managers and my question to you is, is his seat getting warm? They haven’t been able to get out of the second round. They’ve tried John Tortorella for years, that style. Then they went to maybe a little more of a players’ coach style with [Brad] Larsen. And now you pivot in the complete opposite direction back to Mike Babcock. Again, I can’t say that I understand it, the way it ended in Toronto, there’s plenty of other talented coaches out there, but is this sort of a last-ditch effort for Kekalainen to keep his job, or does he have that long leash that I’ve seen over the past couple of seasons?
Aaron Portzline: Only John Davidson and ownership can determine that. What is their level of patience? Do they still see a plan that they believe in? He’s now into his 11th season as GM. I don’t know if Barry Trotz is officially the GM in Nashville yet, but when David Poile steps down, Kekalainen will be the third-longest-tenured GM in the league — with one series win in that time. It hasn’t exactly been parades and rainbows since then. I would have to think it’s warm. I’ve always said that the word ‘rebuild’ is really, really easy to say and it’s not such an awful process at the start of it because you see these young players, there’s so much leash there for everybody. But it’s like the old adage of fighting — everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth. Last season was the Blue Jackets getting punched in the mouth. The rebuild wasn’t just doing the straight upward climb again, it really bottomed out, so you wonder where it’s going now. This season will determine, I think, a lot of that. But absolutely, when you move three head coaches, and this is now the fourth head coach under Jarmo Kekalainen, eventually the spotlight turns toward the GM, not just the coach.
Watch the full episode here: