Columbus Blue Jackets Name Jarmo Kekalainen New GM After Firing Scott Howson
By Evan Meyer
When the Columbus Blue Jackets named John Davidson Director of Hockey Operations last fall, he was given a mandate by ownership to make the club relevant in the National Hockey League.
Wednesday morning, Davidson started that ‘Road to Relevancy’ as he hired Jarmo Kekalainen as the team’s new General Manager.
“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 Kekalaninen,” Davidson said at a press conference at Nationwide Arena.
“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, 46, becomes the first European born man to become a General Manager in the NHL, and the third in team history. He replaces Scott Howson who was relieved of his duties Tuesday.
“I am very grateful to the McConnell family, John Davidson, and the Blue Jackets organization for this opportunity and I am looking forward to getting started,” Kekalainen said. “We have a great challenge before us, but I am confident through hard work, organization, and commitment that we will achieve our goal of building a Stanley Cup contending team.”
Kekalainen made his remarks from his native Finland, where he was General Manager of Jokerit in the Finnish Elite League, and broadcast simultaneously at the Davidson press conference in Columbus.
He is the second NHL General Manager to be hired during this abbreviated season. During training camp, Toronto fired Brian Burke replacing him with Dave Nonis. Kekalainen will begin working for the team as soon as he can get his immigration squared way. He needs to get an H-1 visa to enter and work in the United States.
Kekalainen is no stranger to North America, or to the NHL. He studied and played College Hockey at Clarkson University in upstate New York after playing in the Finnish junior system for four years. He played in the NHL with the Boston Bruins for parts of two seasons in 1989-90 and 1990-91.
He returned to Finland for two seasons then came back to the NHL with the Ottawa Senators in 1993-94, as he played 55 career games in the NHL scoring five goals and eight assists for 13 points.
He retired as an active player in 1995, and went right into management as GM of IFK Helsinki from 1995-99. During that time, he also did some scouting for the Senators. In 1999, he returned to the Canadian Capitals as the Director of Player Personnel. During his time in Ottawa, he help draft players like Marian Hossa, Jason Spezza, Martin Havlat and Ray Emery.
In 2002, he came to the St. Louis Blues as Assistant GM-Director of Amateur Scouting. During his time under the Gateway Arch, he helped draft players such as Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie, David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo and this season’s phenom from Russia Vladimir Tarasenko.
In 2010 he returned to Finland to be GM with Jokerit until he was named the Blue Jackets GM on Wednesday.
What drew Davidson to Kekalainien? Not only did they work together with the Blues, but his strength in talent evaluation and being on the same page with Davidson on how a team should be built.
“He is relentless,” Davidson said.
The two could have worked together before this day, Davidson had a choice between Kekalainen and Doug Armstrong as GM with the Blues. He chose Armstrong because of his previous work as a GM in the NHL with the Dallas Stars.
When Kekalainen finally gets to his office at Nationwide, he will not have a bare cupboard as he will have three first-round selections. The team’s own, the one they obtained from Los Angeles in the Jeff Carter/Jack Johnson deal made at last season’s trade deadline and the one they will have from the New York Rangers in the Rick Nash deal.
The 2013 NHL entry draft is set for late June at the Prudential Center in Newark. Kekalainen will be spending most of the next two months on the road evaluating talent both in Europe and in North America.
Davidson is using the blueprint he had when he took over the Blues after being a television analyst for many years, specifically with the New York Rangers. When he took over the Blues, they were 30th, last in the NHL, with the help of Kekalainen they rose quickly finishing second in the Western Conference last season winning a playoff series for the first time in nearly a decade.
He hopes this blueprint can fit the Blue Jackets as well.