A conversation with Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen

Fresh off the NHL’s All-Star break (congrats to Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones) and at the nominal, if not numerical, halfway point of the 2018-19 season, Straight Jackets was fortunate to get some time with Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen. It’s been an interesting season in CBJ-land, in particular with respect to the ongoing contract situations of both goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Artemi Panarin. The league’s trade deadline is just about a month out, as well, so there were no shortage of topics to address.

The team recently added Martin St. Louis as a Special Teams Consultant. I assume that’s something you see as addressing a shortcoming with the club?
We’re always looking for ways to get better and we’ve had several conversations with the coaching staff. The power play is one concern we’ve had pretty much all season, and [Head Coach John Tortorella] has a long relationship with [St. Louis], and they came up with the idea that this was something that could help us get to the next level. I love the open-mindedness of the coaches, where they don’t have big egos and they’re looking for ways to get better even if it’s looking for someone from the outside.

The [contract] situation with Artemi Panarin is ongoing. There were supposed to have been some meetings over the All-Star break. Has anything changed with regard to the team’s approach to Panarin in the past few days?
Nothing has changed. We’re still status quo.

Do you expect that situation to be resolved in the near future?
I won’t speculate on that. There are two sides. We know we want to keep him. We’ve made it clear he would be in our long-term plans, but if it doesn’t work that way then we’ll move along and we’ll be a strong team in the future even if he decides not to be with us.

The Sergei Bobrovsky situation has also been difficult. Is there anything there that has changed in the past few days?
No. It would be the same answer.

Apart from anything that might happen with those two players, do you anticipate being active at the trade deadline?
This time of year everyone is curious, I’m sure, from the locker room to the fan base. We’ll see what the marketplace looks like. I think we have a pretty good team. Are we looking for ways to get better? Always. There could be an opportunity presented in front of us that we think is going to make us better not only this spring but into the future. We had some rentals last year, but they made sense for us at the time and the cost was something we could accept. That’s basically the way we’re going to look at this year again. If we’re going to go into the rental market, it would have to be something that is reasonable — not something that would weaken our team in the long-term.

We do believe in our core group here. We’re in a good position to build around that, but there are no shortcuts. … We’re each one of us trying to improve every day. That’s the way we run our business.