A conversation with the Blue Jackets General Manager
With the All-Star break in the rearview mirror and the NHL trade deadline approaching, Straight Jackets was fortunate to get some time with Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen. He wouldn't comment on the recent situation involving Brandon Dubinsky, or on the reported trade request by Jack Johnson. He did briefly say some nice things about Pierre-Luc Dubois, Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Seth Jones, but he preferred to discuss things in big-picture fashion, which, in fairness, is a GM's job.
This time last year the team was fresh off a big winning streak. At that time you cautioned that this is a long process. Right now the team is struggling, in particular to score. Is this part of that same process?
We're still the youngest team in the league. It's a process of growing up and maturing. We've had our ups and downs. Last year, I don't know if we gave, within the team, a false belief in where we're at, but maybe in the … fanbase or media or whoever. A 16-game winning streak doesn't happen every year and that's probably what we were cautioning about.
We sure enough haven't got anywhere near that this year but we're still on pace to be in the playoffs. That's the goal we had for the season. With 30 games left we're in control, so in that sense we're on schedule.
Are the front office and coaches still on the same page with regard to that process?
We're talking to coaches every day. I talk to [Head Coach John Tortorella] every day about our lineup, our group, our individuals, how we can get better. Most of the time they're good conversations. Sometimes we disagree, but we move on and try to find a way to come together on things. We're on the same page, for sure.
Is it just a matter of players playing better or are there some additions to the roster that need to be made?
We're always looking at all the options that we might have. I know for sure we have a lot more potential in this group than what we've shown this year. I know we can do better on an individual level and as a team, but at the same time we're always looking at options to try to get better if there's a move to be made from the outside to strengthen our group.
I think we just need some good things to happen to our team. Our shooting percentage as a team has been extremely low. It never lasts like that. … [Pucks are] going to start going in, and when that happens it will add to the confidence of the group and things will start rolling.
Is there a particular identity that you're trying to create for the team?
The ingredients we're looking for are in character and ability to play fast, with hockey instincts. The way the game's played these days, getting faster and faster. … I don't think it's only the ability to skate fast but the ability to process the game fast. Passion, competitiveness, relentless effort to make a difference on an individual level and as a team — those are the qualities on the character side that we're looking for.