It would seem that in this age of the NHL, the biggest skills a GM can have is the ability to scout his own players, judge them fairly, and also have a really great math guy. Because as we know, it only takes a couple of mistakes with your salary cap, or evaluating your own guys, before you’ve fornicated over all the good work you’ve done.
This is Jarmo Kekalainen’s fourth full season as GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets (he took over in the middle of the shortened 2013 season). They have made one playoff appearance in that time, in 2014 where they threw a brief scare into the Penguins before fading into the background. They haven’t really come close since. And the patience in Columbus is starting to run a bit thin, especially when Jarmo’s hire as a coach was the personification of a bullhorn.
Let’s try and pull in the whole scope of Jarmo’s work.
While it’s easy to point and laugh at the terrible record on the ice, and having Tortorella anywhere in-state, Jarmo’s work to build the foundation of this team through young players is actually pretty impressive. He acquired Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen, and we still maintain quite strongly that Jones will turn into a much better #1 d-man than Johansen will #1 center. He was able to cash in on the Hawks’ panic over Brandon Saad for now essentially Artem Anisimov. While Arty is useful there isn’t a person anywhere in the Cook County area that wouldn’t send him back for Saad straight-up. He drafted Zach Werenski, Wennberg, Kerby Rychel, Bjorkstrand, Sonny Milano, and of those players who haven’t made a splash in the NHL yet were the core of the AHL Lake Erie Monsters that won the Calder Cup last spring. That doesn’t always equate to NHL success, if it did the Grand Rapids Griffins would have made the Wings better than this current mess, but it’s at least encouraging.
But good lord, some of these contracts Jarmo has handed out makes you wonder where they’re going to find spots for all these prospects if they force their way into the lineup. He handed Brandon Dubinsky a $5.8 million hit until 2022. That’s Brandon Dubinsky, who has scored more than 20 goals exactly twice in his career and is made of balsa wood. He got all googly-eyed when Nick Foligno put up 31 goals two years ago with a 17% shooting-percentage, handed him a $5.5 hit until 2022 as well and then stared blankly when Foligno returned to his normal 12 goals last year. And he’s 28, so he’s basically peaked. Good stuff there.
He traded one bad deal, R.J. Umberger’s, for another in Scott Hartnell, who is pulling down $4.7 million for another two years after this one. He swapped out Nathan Horton for David Clarkson, though Clarkson isn’t going to play for a very long time and he can at least get LTIR relief. But that’s three awful contracts that are handcuffing anything he might want to do. This team still doesn’t have a #1 center and Sonny Milano is years away from being that if that is indeed his destiny.
It’s hard to know where the relief is going to come from, other than Buyout-burgh. And they already did that with Fydor Tyutin and Jared Boll. The only deals coming off the books after this year are either entry-level deals, and they’ll want to keep some of those around, or league-minimum like contracts. After next season Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner are up, as are Matt Calvert and William Karlsson. On the blue line they can hand Jack Johnson’s wasted cash to Murray. But at least Jenner and Atkinson will be in the plans. Where’s everyone going?
Jarmo clearly has an eye for young talent, but either he or his higher-ups have clearly been led astray by valuing the wrong things in Dubinsky, Foligno, and an aging Hartnell. He was saddled with Jack Johnson, to be fair. They could open up a lot of space by getting any of them, or even Bobrovsky to Vegas somehow, but this team needs the goaltending that Bob can provide when healthy.
It’s a tightrope. He hasn’t walked it well yet.