On Jarmo Kekalainen, The Blue Jackets, and Sustained Mediocrity
mediocre adj of only moderate quality; not very good
Calling the Columbus Blue Jackets mediocre is being quite generous, since mediocrity implies at least some level of being “average”. The Blue Jackets are very rarely average. They have had one season above .500, one that required Steve Mason having a Calder winning and Vezina nomination receiving season (can you imagine Steve Mason with the Vezina?!). That season was also the only time they’ve finished above 16th in the overall NHL standings (they were 15th!). In short, the Blue Jackets don’t exactly have an illustrious history; they make me think of the Atlanta Thrashers, except the Thrashers at least drafted a few more impact players in their short history (Kovalchuk, Heatley, Lehtonen, Bogosian, Enstrom, Pavelec, Kane, etc.).
Enter Jarmo Kekalainen. Recently hired as the new General Manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Kekalainen comes into a less than ideal situation to build a new team. His job is like that of a GM tasked with managing an expansion team, except without the benefit of being free from prior obligations (such as the lovely long term contracts of Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski). Kekalainen has no pressure to build off any past successes of the franchise since, frankly, the Blue Jackets haven’t had any.
Why then should you care about the Columbus Blue Jackets?
It’s simple. Jarmo Kekalainen is an expert in the one field that is crucial to building a franchise: drafting. Kekalainen’s prior NHL experience is in scouting and drafting for the Ottawa Senators and the St. Louis Blues. What players has he helped pick? Among others, Jason Spezza, Brooks Laich, Tim Gleason, Ray Emery, Anton Volchenkov, Greg Zanon, Chris Kelly, Martin Havlat, David Backes, Lee Stempniak, Nikita Nikitin, Roman Polak, T.J. Oshie, Erik Johnson, Patrik Berglund, David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo, Jaden Schwartz, Vladmir Tarasenko… you get the idea. All of those players were drafted in about 10 years. Compare that to the Blue Jackets, who’s top draft picks in NHL games played are Nash, Klesla, then Zherdev.
Kekalainen is armed with a trio of 1st round picks in 2013. The turnaround starts then. It won’t be easy, and it’ll probably involve lots of losing a plenty of bottom-of-the-standings finishes. Pretty much it’ll be more of what Blue Jackets fans have experienced up until now. But someday… someday the Blue Jackets may be an above-average NHL team. The groundwork is there; Kekalainen is definitely able to build a solid homegrown squad.
And even if Kekalainen fails, it’ll just be keeping the status quo in Columbus.