With a little bit of tweaking to the roster, the Columbus Blue Jackets enter the new season with better health and some exciting new pieces. While the summer was mostly positive, there were serious mistakes made as well. Today we’re grading Jarmo Kekalainen’s off-season moves.
Jarmo gave himself quite a punch list for the summer, after the team finished 31st out of 32 teams in the NHL, with one of the worst seasons in franchise history (59 points). The Jackets were crushed by injuries, but that situation only exacerbated the team’s overall shortcomings. They needed better coaching. They needed better defensemen. And, they still lacked talent and depth at the center ice position.
We’re fortunate to have an active GM in Columbus, and Jarmo wasted no time in getting right to work. Just hours after dropping their final game of the regular season, the team relieved head coach Brad Larsen of his duties, after losing 102 of 164 regular season games with him behind the bench.
If you followed the team last season, this was absolutely a necessary move. While you can hardly blame the entire season on the coach – especially when the already thin roster was decimated with injuries – it was obvious that things weren’t going to work out. When one of your veteran players questions the team’s practice plan or its intensity, you have some serious underlying issues.
The team seemed to be dragging their feet during their head coaching search. Rumored coach after rumored coach were slowly picked up by other teams, one by one, until whispers turned into serious talk about the Jackets hiring Mike Babcock to replace Larsen. Those rumors eventually came true when, on July 1st, the Jackets formally introduced Mike as their new head coach. He seemed to be their guy all along, and the only hold up was in waiting for his contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs to expire.
The move shouldn’t have been a complete surprise. After all, it’s a fairly common practice for a team to go from one extreme (Brad Larsen, the nice guy coach) to the other (Mike Babcock, the tyrant coach). We all had our concerns, but in theory, it seemed like it might work. A young team with a ton of skill and upside playing for a head coach who could strategize with the best of them. But as we all know, it blew up in spectacular fashion, and Babs was gone before he could even have one single on-ice practice with the team.
Jarmo’s grade for the head coaching moves: F
There’s no room for debate here. While they landed on a solid guy that I believe can be a good coach here (Pascal Vincent), the road to this point might have been the all-time low point in the history of this organization. It was embarrassing for the team, the fans, and most importantly, anyone involved in CBJ management. It’s a really low “F” grade for me.