Getting to Know New Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen

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Getting to Know New Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Jarmo Kekalainen

The Columbus Blue Jackets fired general manager Scott Howson on Tuesday (via TSN's Pierre LeBrun), and team president John Davidson wasted no time finding a replacement. Davidson announced on Wednesday that Jarmo Kekalainen would take over the general manager role.

Per BlueJackets.com:

The Columbus Blue Jackets have agreed to terms on a multi-year contract with Jarmo Kekalainen to serve as the club’s general manager, Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson announced today. Kekalainen, who has been the president and general manager of Jokerit in the Finnish Elite League since 2010, becomes the third general manager in Blue Jackets history.

"Hockey is a truly global game and there are very few people whose knowledge of the game in North America and abroad surpasses that of Jarmo Kekalainen," said Davidson. "He is intelligent, hard-working and a tremendous evaluator of talent. He is a terrific addition to the Blue Jackets family and will play an important role in our efforts to move our organization forward in the coming years."

Kekalainen (pronounced kehk-uh-LIE-nehn) spent eight seasons with the St. Louis Blues from 2002-10 before joining Jokerit. He most recently served as the club’s assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting and was involved in all facets of hockey operations, including professional scouting efforts and overseeing the club’s amateur scouting and draft preparations. During his eight years in St. Louis, the Blues drafted players such as David Backes, Roman Polak, David Perron, T.J. Oshie, Patrick Berglund and Alex Pietrangelo.

Kekalainen has become the first European general manager in NHL history, and he is a perfect fit for this organization.

Many team presidents choose to surround themselves with people they know and trust, and this appears to be what's happening in Columbus with Davidson in charge.

Davidson's previous experience working with Kekalainen has helped build a level of trust and respect that will help improve the team's decision making on important roster decisions including trades, free agency and the draft.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
John Davidson is leading the Blue Jackets' latest rebuild.

These two men were a major part of the St. Louis Blues' success in the draft since the 2004-05 lockout, and because of their hard work, the team has a solid core of young players that will help the franchise contend in the Western Conference for many years.

The Blue Jackets have three first round picks (Rangers, Kings and their own) in a deep 2013 NHL draft, and the team needs to nail all of these selections to accelerate its rebuild.

Kekalainen's ability to identify the most talented European prospects will be a valuable addition to the Blue Jackets. As ESPN Boston's Jimmy Murphy explains, almost a third of the NHL's players are from Europe.

Even though general managers don't scout as often as other people in the hockey ops department, expect Kekalainen to do plenty of scouting year-round because of his prior experience in this kind of role.

Wherever Kekalainen has worked in the NHL, his teams have drafted well, especially in the first round. As the chart below shows, drafting quality players in the first and second rounds wasn't a strength of the Blue Jackets organization during Howson's tenure.

Year Round Pick Player
2007 1 7 Jakub Voracek
2007 2 37 Stefan Legein
2008 1 6 Nikita Filatov
2008 2 37 Cody Goloubef
2009 1 21 John Moore
2009 2 56 Kevin Lynch
2010 1 4 Ryan Johansen
2010 2 34 Dalton Smith
2011 2 37 Boone Jenner
2012 1 2 Ryan Murray
2012 2 31 Oscar Dansk

Ryan Murray and Boone Jenner could be solid NHL players, but Howson has not picked any star players despite having four top-seven picks in the first round. Voracek is the best player from this group, and he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011 in the Jeff Carter deal, which in hindsight was a poor move.

John Grieshop/Getty Images
Scott Howson (middle) was fired on Tuesday.

At the end of the day, Howson's legacy will be the Rick Nash trade with the New York Rangers from July of last year, which was a complete disaster for the team.

He accepted a package of a first round pick in 2013, prospect Tim Erixon and forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov in exchange for the only superstar on his team's roster. Unless the first round pick turns into a star player, this Nash trade could go down as one of the worst deals in NHL history.

He probably could have gotten a better deal at the trade deadline, but for some reason, Howson decided to keep Nash for the entire 2011-12 despite the fact that his captain clearly wanted to move on.

Failing to acquire enough quality assets for Nash and not drafting enough top talent gave the Blue Jackets plenty of reasons to fire Howson. The team clearly needed to make a change because repeated failures cannot be tolerated by a franchise with just one playoff appearance in its 11-year history.

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Blue Jackets fans deserve a good hockey team to watch each night, and there is no question that Columbus is a good hockey market because the community has supported this team despite having very few reasons to be proud of its on-ice performance.

With Davidson and Kekalainen running the show and making the important roster decisions in Columbus, expect the Blue Jackets to finally become a winning franchise with an impressive young core to build around moving forward.

This is the first time that the Blue Jackets are being led by an experienced hockey ops group with a history of great success, so there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the team's future after the Kekalainen hire.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.

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