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Does it matter if NHL agents find Jarmo Kekäläinen unreasonable?

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He’s unreadable, unless he’s angry

NHL: SEP 11 Blue Jackets Media Day Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Tuesday, Craig Custance of The Athletic published the results of a poll conducted among 22 NHL player agents. Custance asked the agents questions ranging from “Will NHL players be playing in the next Winter Olympics?” and “What grade would you give Gary Bettman?” The results of one question, though, struck me as particularly interesting: “What GM do you find unreasonable to deal with?”

Out of 22 responses, Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen finished in a four-way tie for third. OK, so that totaled two votes, but the top vote-getter (Bob Murray) only received four. The anonymous quotes shed a little more light on what’s so irksome about conducting business with Jarmo:

“Jarmo Kekalainen (Blue Jackets). It’s because Jarmo is an enigma. I never can figure out what’s going on with him. He will only speak with vague generalities and always present things like, ‘This is the way it is. And why are you disagreeing with me?’”

“Jarmo Kekalainen … can’t even hide his disdain sometimes if he doesn’t like a situation.”

It’s important to note that it’s not like these agents hate Kekäläinen and refuse to do business with him (or anybody else on the list). As Custance wrote, “This wasn’t an attempt to make GMs look bad. Just an attempt to get a glimpse into their negotiating style. Who digs in and doesn’t budge?”

Several of the quotes about other GMs are to the effect of “This guy’s a real hard negotiator and he’s doing his job,” not “This man is human garbage and I hope he falls down a well.”

I like how different those two quotes about Kekäläinen are, yet how much they work for me. For one person, Kekäläinen is inscrutable and refuses to engage on the agent’s terms. For another, Kekäläinen wears his disgust so openly that it’s impossible to miss.

As a fan of the team Kekäläinen is charge of, this is good to me. I want players to make as money as they can, and I also want the team to win games. One of Kekäläinen main job responsibilities is to negotiate, so it would seem beneficial to be, y’know, hard to read during a negotiation.

Two particular negotiations came to mind, most recently Josh Anderson’s restricted free agent deal in 2017. Anderson famously missed the entire preseason in pursuit of a bigger contract, only to settle on the club’s original $5.5 million/three year deal that expires after this season. That protracted, messy affair where the CBJ wielded “the hammer” ended up working out for Kekäläinen and the club (and I wonder for whom Anderson’s agent, Darren Ferris, voted here).

Kekäläinen also dealt with a similar situation at the start of the 2014 season when Ryan Johansen missed the preseason over his RFA deal. Johansen ended up getting a $12 million/three year contract but was subsequently traded halfway through the following season (but boy did that trade work out). Kekäläinen almost certainly learned some lessons from the Johansen negotiation that applied to Anderson.

Of course, Anderson may be gone in a matter of weeks. He’s yet to find the same level of his dynamic 2018-19 campaign, and while both sides say there are no lingering feelings from those contentious talks three years ago, they probably didn’t help.

You also wonder about Columbus’s exodus of free agents. None of the team’s big four re-signed over the summer, and the team even threw everything it had at Artemi Panarin. The team also may have botched its relationship with Sergei Bobrovsky, although that clearly doesn’t matter anymore. What role does Jarmo’s approach play in wooing UFAs?

This team also doesn’t really sign unrestricted free agents, either. Certainly not big ones, anyway. Here are all the unrestricted free agents signed by the Blue Jackets under Jarmo Kekäläinen, per CapFriendly.com. Take a look, y’all.

UFA Signings in the Jarmo Era

Name Signing Date Length Cap Hit Value
Name Signing Date Length Cap Hit Value
Nathan Gerbe February 2, 2020 2 Years $750,000 $1,500,000
Marko Dano August 8, 2019 1 Year $800,000 $800,000
Gustav Nyquist July 1, 2019 4 Years $5,500,000 $22,000,000
Zac Dalpe February 27, 2019 2 Years $750,000 $1,500,000
Mark Letestu September 27, 2018 1 Year $750,000 $750,000
Anthony Duclair July 5, 2018 1 Year $650,000 $650,000
Riley Nash July 1, 2018 3 Years $2,750,000 $8,250,000
Adam Clendening July 1, 2018 1 Year $700,000 $700,000
Dillon Simpson July 1, 2018 2 Years $675,000 $1,350,000
Tommy Cross July 1, 2018 1 Year $650,000 $650,000
Alex Broadhurst June 18, 2018 1 Year $725,000 $725,000
Nathan Gerbe March 15, 2018 2 Years $675,000 $1,350,000
Nathan Gerbe January 25, 2018 1 Year $750,000 $750,000
Cam Atkinson November 16, 2017 7 Years $5,875,000 $41,125,000
André Benoit July 1, 2017 1 Year $800,000 $800,000
Cameron Gaunce July 1, 2017 1 Year $650,000 $650,000
Zac Dalpe June 9, 2017 2 Years $725,000 $1,450,000
Marc-Andre Bergeron February 28, 2017 1 Year $575,000 $575,000
Sam Gagner August 1, 2016 1 Year $650,000 $650,000
John Ramage March 2, 2016 2 Years $612,500 $1,225,000
John Ramage July 3, 2015 1 Year $600,000 $600,000
Brett Gallant July 2, 2015 2 Years $750,000 $1,500,000
Andrew Bodnarchuk July 2, 2015 1 Year $650,000 $650,000
Jaime Sifers July 2, 2015 2 Years $625,000 $1,250,000
Gregory Campbell July 1, 2015 2 Years $1,500,000 $3,000,000
Curtis McElhinney June 24, 2015 2 Years $800,000 $1,600,000
Justin Falk May 31, 2015 1 Year $600,000 $600,000
Nick Foligno December 31, 2014 6 Years $5,500,000 $33,000,000
Brandon Dubinsky July 11, 2014 6 Years $5,850,000 $35,100,000
Brian Gibbons July 4, 2014 1 Year $750,000 $750,000
Frédéric St-Denis June 30, 2014 1 Year $550,000 $550,000
Curtis McElhinney June 23, 2014 1 Year $600,000 $600,000
Jared Boll September 14, 2013 3 Years $1,700,000 $5,100,000
Blake Comeau August 2, 2013 1 Year $1,000,000 $1,000,000
Jack Skille July 7, 2013 1 Year $675,000 $675,000
Frédéric St-Denis July 7, 2013 1 Year $575,000 $575,000
Patrick McNeill July 6, 2013 1 Year $600,000 $600,000
Nathan Horton July 5, 2013 7 Years $5,300,000 $37,100,000
Ryan Craig July 5, 2013 2 Years $600,000 $1,200,000
Mike McKenna July 5, 2013 1 Year $595,000 $595,000
Cody Bass July 4, 2013 1 Year $600,000 $600,000
Curtis McElhinney May 24, 2013 1 Year $600,000 $600,000
Mark Letestu April 2, 2013 2 Years $1,250,000 $2,500,000
CapFriendly.com

Look at that! Gustav Nyquist is the biggest free agent that didn’t already come from the Blue Jackets. That’s a wild list. This team does not sign unrestricted free agents from other teams. Is that Jarmo? Is that a function of the market, the coach, the city’s reputation? Who can say. Maybe all of it. Columbus also appears on the NHL agents’ poll under “clients’ no-trade clause.” But those signing numbers are the facts.

Actually, look at all of Kekäläinen’s signings since January 2019.

Jarmo Kekäläinen Signings Since January 2019

Name Signing Date Type of FA Length Cap Hit
Name Signing Date Type of FA Length Cap Hit
Nathan Gerbe February 2, 2020 Standard (UFA) 2 Years $750,000
Eric Robinson January 27, 2020 Standard (RFA) 2 Years $975,000
Zach Werenski September 9, 2019 Standard (RFA) 3 Years $5,000,000
Marko Dano August 8, 2019 Standard (UFA) 1 Year $800,000
Ryan MacInnis July 16, 2019 Standard (RFA) 1 Year $874,125
Sonny Milano July 15, 2019 Standard (RFA) 1 Year $874,125
Justin Scott July 10, 2019 Standard (RFA) 1 Year $700,000
Scott Harrington July 5, 2019 Standard (RFA) 3 Years $1,633,333
Gustav Nyquist July 1, 2019 Standard (UFA) 4 Years $5,500,000
Ryan Murray July 1, 2019 Standard (RFA) 2 Years $4,600,000
Joonas Korpisalo July 1, 2019 Standard (RFA) 1 Year $1,150,000
Doyle Somerby June 29, 2019 Standard (RFA) 1 Year $700,000
Eric Robinson June 25, 2019 Standard (RFA) 1 Year $874,125
Adam Clendening June 25, 2019 Standard (RFA) 2 Years $700,000
Markus Hannikainen June 17, 2019 Standard (RFA) 1 Year $750,000
Jakob Lilja June 15, 2019 Entry-Level 1 Year $792,500
Veini Vehvilainen June 4, 2019 Entry-Level 2 Years $925,000
Elvis Merzlikins May 15, 2019 Standard (RFA) 1 Year $874,125
Emil Bemstrom May 14, 2019 Entry-Level 3 Years $925,000
Daniil Tarasov May 4, 2019 Entry-Level 3 Years $925,000
Vladislav Gavrikov April 13, 2019 Entry-Level 2 Years $925,000
Andrew Peeke April 1, 2019 Entry-Level 3 Years $916,667
Elvis Merzlikins March 20, 2019 Entry-Level 1 Year $1,844,559
Trey Fix-Wolansky March 15, 2019 Entry-Level 3 Years $809,166
Zac Dalpe February 27, 2019 Standard (UFA) 2 Years $750,000
CapFriendly.com

Here’s the bottom line: Jarmo Kekäläinen has built a roster that, even with myriad injuries, stands fifth in the Eastern Conference and $20.7 million in cap space. The man can negotiate. Can’t read him? Won’t like him when he’s angry? Fine. Works for me.