There may not have been a busier person in the NHL the last few days than Jarmo Kekalainen.
The Blue Jackets’ general manager pulled off a slew of trades to improve his team in the hopes of making a deep playoff run this spring.
Earlier in the week, Kekalainen traded for Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel of the Ottawa Senators in two separate deals. He then struck two more big deals prior to Monday’s trade deadline. The Blue Jackets first acquired goalie Keith Kinkaid from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a fifth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. Kinkaid is 15-18-6 this season with a 3.36 goals-against average and .891 save percentage.
“He’s an experienced guy who is a known NHL goaltender,” Kekalainen told reporters at a press conference after the deadline. “He’s a big reason why New Jersey made the playoffs last year.”
Kekalainen also dialed up the phone and struck a deal for veteran defenseman Adam McQuaid from the New York Rangers in exchange for a fourth and seventh-round pick in the 2019 draft. Despite producing just five points (two goals, three assists) in 36 games, Kekalainen believes that McQuaid’s intangibles will be beneficial to the team.
Just talked to Adam McQuaid. He will wear No. 54 with the #CBJ, as he has with Boston and New York. “I know it’s a number in such high demand,” he quipped, “but that’s been my number so I’m sticking with it.” Only previous CBJ 54 is Scott Harrington.
“He gives us another element, we felt we needed another defenseman,” Kekalainen noted. “He plays with an edge, that’s important down the stretch.”
There was plenty of rumors regarding the availability of Artemi Panarin and netminder Sergei Bobrovsky. Kekalainen ultimately decided to keep the services of both, as he feels they give the team the best chance of competing in the playoffs.
“I’m excited about our team, there was no offer that would’ve made sense for us now or in the future,” Kekalainen said. “You don’t often have the luxury of having a two-time Vezina Trophy winner … I’m glad Panarin and [Bobrovsky] are still here, gives us a chance to compete.”
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Columbus certainly has improved for this season; however, they will have a lot of decisions to make in the offseason. Panarin, Bobrovsky, McQuaid, Dzingel, Duchene and Kinkaid will all be unrestricted free agents.
The Blue Jackets have just a third and seventh-round pick in this summer’s draft; but despite all the question marks surrounding the impending unrestricted free agents and limited draft capital, Kekalainen still believes his squad is set up for long-term success.
“I think we have a good foot in the future as well, a lot of prospects that don’t get the credit they deserve,” Kekalainen mentioned. “We have our core in place and it will be in place no matter what happens with the UFAs.
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“This is definitely not, ‘okay we’re all in for this spring and that’s it, we’ll start the rebuild,’” Kekalainen added. “We’re going to have a good team next year no matter what happens.”
Kekalainen is in a tough position because of the current state of affairs on the roster. The Blue Jackets have the potential to make noise in the playoffs due to their depth of talent across the board, but have paid a hefty price to do so. However, if he ended up dealing Panarin or Bobrovsky for future assets, it could have been looked at as depleting a team on the brink of winning.
“It’s one of those things where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” Kekalainen said.
Kekalainen has to get credit for making aggressive moves to improve the team. But if Columbus falls short, it will all be for nothing.
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