Breaking down the 3 former Blue Jackets general managers, and setting the expectations for the next one

The Columbus Blue Jackets are about to hire the fourth GM in their history. What better time to look back and reflect upon the other guys who have been here? And if we're going to do that, let's set the expectations for the next person.
2010 NHL Draft - Round One
2010 NHL Draft - Round One / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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Jarmo Kekalainen

The Blue Jackets named Jarmo Kekalainen as their new general manager the day after they fired Scott Howson. Kekalainen left the same position in Jokerit (Finland) to take on the job, making him the first European GM in NHL history.

It was an easy connection to make, as the team's president (John Davidson) had previously worked with Kekalainen in the St Louis Blues organization. Right away, the team came forward with their plans: they wanted to draft and develop a contending team.

There was just one problem: as was the case with Howson, the Jackets and their fanbase didn't have much of a stomach for a proper rebuild. This team needed to have success immediately.

The good news here is, Howson actually left this franchise with some serviceable talent. In Jarmo's first full year at the helm, the plucky Jackets found their way into the playoffs on the backs of another standout season from Sergei Bobrovsky, who had won the Vezina Trophy the year prior.

Kekalainen did tweak the roster down the stretch, when this team was still competing for a spot. But let's be honest here: a lot of this success was because of the parts and pieces left here by Howson. That was a fun Blue Jackets team, that gave us some of the most memorable moments in franchise history.


The next two years for the Jackets were a downward trend because of injuries and a roster devoid of top end talent. But Kekalainen drafted very well in 2015, which ultimately built his defense corps up for what would become the most competitive Jackets team ever. He also shocked the hockey world by taking Pierre-Luc Dubois third overall in 2016.

But things really turned around with the hiring of head coach John Tortorella. An 0-7 start to the 2015-16 season - when this team had a roster with promise - prompted them to fire player's coach Todd Richards, and go with his polar opposite. Immediately, the direction of the franchise changed.

The Jackets quickly became a tight checking, slogging defensive team. Star center Ryan Johansen was labelled as out of shape, pushed away and traded for promising athletic defenseman Seth Jones. Jones would pair up with top prospect Zach Werenski to give the Jackets the best top pairing in their history.

Somehow, Jack Johnson and David Savard were turned into an elite shutdown defense pairing (I still don't know how this happened). The Jackets were able to find enough offense to win some games, which prompted bolder moves from Kekalainen. They even managed to win a playoff series in 2019 - the famed first round sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But, as things go, eventually it all went away. Unfortunately for the Jackets, the core that Jarmo impressively brought together was broken up after that first round playoff win. The team was thrust into a rebuild, which continues here several years later - and ultimately led to his dismissal as GM.

Kekalainen's best move: hiring Tortorella as his head coach. Torts set the winning culture that made this team competitive. Honorable mention: trading a bunch of spare parts for Artemi Panarin. Panarin had the two most productive offensive seasons in franchise history, before bolting in free agency.

Kekalainen's worst move: both ends of the Marian Gaborik trade were a disaster. But, it has to be hiring Mike Babcock as head coach.

In the end, the Jackets fared pretty well under Kekalainen - 410-362-97 (.471%). In fact, they had easily their best years under his leadership, which is impressive because he never went through a proper build with this team. But, it just wasn't good enough to keep him here after the last two seasons were complete disasters. After 11 years, it was time to move on.

The expectations for success were pushed even higher by Kekalainen, which ultimately led to his removal. This franchise went from "I wish we could win" to "losing isn't good enough" under his leadership. The roster was left in better shape by Kekalainen than it was by either of the two previous GMs. Which leads me to our expectations for the next person in charge. Let's take a look.