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Jarmo Week: A look back at some big trades

Jarmo’s trade prowess propelled the Blue Jackets to new highs, but some deals are head-scratchers.

Seth Jones and Artemi Panarin, two of Jarmo’s big trade acquisitions, celebrate a Blue Jackets goal.

Welcome to Jarmo Week!

February 13 will mark the 10 year anniversary of Jarmo Kekalainen assuming the role of General Manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Over the last decade, the franchise has seen some highs and lows, with Jarmo himself making some splashy moves and also some costly errors.

Over the course of this week, we will take a look at his performance in several areas: player contracts, draft picks, and trades. We’ll compare his moves and his results to other long-serving GMs around the league. Finally, we’ll end the week by attempting to answer the question: is Kekalainen the right man for the job going forward?

Jarmo Kekalainen is a big trader. He may have a spotty draft record outside of the top 12, and he’s been pretty hit or miss in the signings department, but when Jarmo swings for the fences, he comes out on top more often than not. And he is not hesitant to pull the trigger on a big deal. Let’s take a look at some of his success stories, in chronological order, as well as some... less successful stories.


The Good

BLUE JACKETS RECIEVE: Scott Hartnell
FLYERS RECIEVE: RJ Umberger, 2015 4th

Jarmo’s first big swing was acquiring Marion Gaborik from the Rangers for a package centering on Derick Brassard and Derek Dorsett. Which was... fine? Gaborik did alright in his two partial seasons on the Jackets, but Brassard is still enjoying a fruitful career, posting 13 points this season for the Senators. But that’s besides the point.

His first homerun was nabbing Scott Hartnell from the Philadelphia Flyers for RJ Umberger and a mid-round pick. Hartnell was a coaches dream, posting 250 goals, 287 assists, and 1,452 penalty minutes in almost 1000 games before joining Columbus for the 2014-15 season. Despite being a 32-year-old power forward, Hartnell continued to produce for the CBJ, posting 146 points in 234 games over three seasons, while still being one of the most physically imposing players on the ice, especially at the net front.

Hartnell also had a great impact on the community, with his Hartnell Down charity, as well as having a fun personality off the ice. And while Umberger was also a fan favorite, and blocked the shot and made the pass that led to the Blue Jackets’ most famous goal, he also never really mad much of an impact in his second stint in Philadelphia.

BLUE JACKETS RECIEVE: Brandon Saad, Alex Broadhurst, Michael Paliotta
BLACKHAWKS RECIEVE: Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp, 2016 4th

Jarmo’s favorite trading partner is the Chicago Blackhawks, and he’s pretty good at trading with them. Three of the six best trades I talk about here see players going between Central Ohio and the Windy City. And this is the one that started it off. While Hartnell brought some veteran presence, Brandon Saad was the Jackets’ first young star in the post-Nash era. Coming off a 19-goal, 47-point season at just 21 years old, Jarmo shocked the hockey world by acquiring Saad for a middle-six center (Anisimov), a prospect (Dano), two forth-liners (Morin and Tropp), and a mid-round pick.

In Columbus, Saad posted a pair of 53-point seasons, scored a career-high 31 goals in a season in 2015-16, and tied his career high of 29 helpers in 2016-17. He’s yet to reach either mark, or break 50 points, since. Now, Saad’s time in Columbus was brief, but not of his own volition.

BLUE JACKETS RECIEVE: Seth Jones
PREDATORS RECIEVE: Ryan Johansen

As fun as the Hartnell and Saad trades were, neither of them could really be described as “ballsy.” Yeah Umberger was a fan favorite, and the Saad trades were unexpected, but there was little doubt at the time as to who won each deal. The Jones-Johansen trade was ballsy as hell. You’re trading your top center, the first true 1C the franchise has ever had, coming off an All Star appearance you hosted, who was widely loved by the fanbase, for a relatively unknown defensive prospect, straight up. Sure Seth Jones had promise, and Dubinsky and Wennberg were decent enough options, but this was definitely a massive gamble.

And it paid off.

Jones became a genuine top defenseman, which was also something this franchise had never had, quickly. He only posted 2 goals in the back half of the 2015-16 campaign, but that was followed by 42-, 57-, 46-point seasons in the next three years, followed by two seasons on 44- and 41-point paces that were shortened by Covid. In addition, he became a reliable defensive stalwart, and joined Zach Werenski to form a formidable top pairing. He’d leave the Jackets on bad terms, but there’s no denying that the massive impact he had on this franchise.

Meanwhile, Ryan Johansen has been... alright? He’s been consistently landing in the 50s to low-60s in points (or point paces with the Covid seasons), and was excellent in their run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals, he has yet to really live up to his $8,000,000 price tag. But if you ask Preds fans, that 2016 Cup run was likely well worth it.

BLUE JACKETS RECIEVE: Artemi Panarin, Tyler Motte, 2017 6th
BLACKHAWKS RECIEVE: Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg, 2018 5th

Two years after surprising the hockey world and nabbing Brandon Saad from Chicago, Jarmo turned around and handed him right back. He got a world-beater in exchange.

Barely one-year removed from besting Connor McDavid in the Calder race, the Jackets were able to get a legit superstar, for Saad (who legitimately was a real good player, though he’s yet to match his output in Columbus), their third-string goalie (Forsberg), and a 5th. Now, some would argue that what Jarmo was really trading here was team control. Saad has four years left on his deal, Artemi Panarin’s was set to be up in the summer of 2019. I would argue that the Jackets got the most electric player in franchise history.

Panarin was amazing. He was twice within spitting distance of 30 goals, scored over a point per game in both seasons he was here, and was able to take over games in a way Rick Nash never could. Yes, Nash was more of a pure goal-scorer, was here longer, and largely defined the franchise for it’s first 12 years, but in terms of raw talent, give me Panarin any day. You just had to watch him.

The other incredible thing with this trade is how it improved the first Saad trade. Put it this way: Would you trade Sean Kuraly, Yegor Chinakhov, Eric Robinson, Mathieu Olivier, Danill Tarasov, a 4th, and a 5th for Artemi Panarin? Even if you knew you’d only get two years? And you also get three prospects and a 6th back? I know I would.

BLUE JACKETS RECIEVE: Matt Duchene, Julius Bergman
SENATORS RECIEVE: Vitaly Abramaov, Jonathan Davidsson, 2019 1st

As mentioned, the Panarin deal, coupled with franchise goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s expiration date, meant the 2018-19 season would be Columbus’s last chance to make a run. Jarmo would be forced to go all-in. And the hand wasn’t great. The Jackets were sitting at 69 points, in a three-way tie for the two wildcards. If they finished 8th, they’d have to face the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning, who were a dominant 47-11-4, for 98 points in 63 games, the best team, potentially, of all-time. And then disaster struck. The Jackets did finish eighth. They went all in, only to meet the woodchipper of Central Florida.

I think you know the rest of the story.

Matt Duchene was a pedestrian 4-8-12 in 23 games to finish the 2018-19 regular season in Columbus. He was a God in the first round against Tampa. He factored into four of the Jackets’ five goals in game 2, netted two more goals in games 3 and 4, for a total of a 3-4-7 stat line the four game sweep. He’d tack on two more goals and an assist in the Boston series, but the Jackets would finish two bad bounces and a missed penalty away from a likely Stanley Cup Finals appearance.

The thing is, the Jackets really didn’t give up much for Duchene. Abramov and Davissson would combine for a single goal and assist in eleven games, while Ottawa would select Lassi Thomson 19th overall. Thomson did have five assists in 16 games last season, but has only played in a pair of games so far this year.

BLUE JACKETS RECIEVE: Adam Boqvist, 2021 1st, 2021 2nd, 2022 1st
BLACKHAWKS RECIEVE: Seth Jones, 2021 1st, 2022 6th

All good things must come to an end, and for Columbus, that end came in 2020. Panarin, Duchene, and Bobrovsky all left in free agency in the summer of 2019. Josh Anderson and Pierre-Luc Dubois would demand out the next summer offseason. Riley Nash, David Savard, and Nick Foligno would all be dealt at the 2021 deadline. And that left Seth Jones, who wanted nothing to do with the rebuild. But Jarmo would get the last laugh.

Jarmo dealt Jones to Chicago for Boqvist, a swap of firsts that moved Columbus up 20 spots in the draft, another first, and a second round pick. This almost single-handedly accelerated the rebuild to whole new heights. Those first round picks turned into Cole Sillinger and David Jiricek. Sillinger, while struggling this year, is still only 19, and showed buckets of potential last season. Jiricek, meanwhile, could replace or exceed Jones by himself. And then you still have Adam Boqvist, who is on a 13-goal, 24-assist pace when he isn’t injured with Columbus, while the 2nd was flipped for Jake Bean, who is a solid bottom four option.

You also get the benefit of not having to pay Seth Jones $9.5 million a year through 2030.

HONORABLE MENTION: Cam Atkinson to Philadelphia for Jakub Voracek

This one just made me very happy on a personal level.


The Bad

BLUE JACKETS RECIEVE: Matt Frattin, 2015 2nd, 2014 3rd
KINGS RECIEVE: Marian Gaborik

While an argument can be made for including the original Marian Gaborik trade on this list, that one is more middling, or slightly disappointing, then bad. The trade to LA sucked. For the six seasons leading up to deal, Gaborik seemed to be alternating between mediocrity and stardom, recording 83 points in 2007-08, before following that up with 23 points, then 86, 48 then 76, wrapping with 27 points in 2012-13, split between the Rangers and Jackets. Should be an exciting 2013-14, eh? Not really. Gaborik posted just 14 points in 22 games with Columbus, before being deal to the Kings. He’d post 16 points in 19 games in LA, before scoring 14 goals and adding eight assists in the playoffs, as the Kings won their second Cup in three seasons.

In return? Matt Frattin, who recording a single assist in four games before being dealt to Toronto, a second rounder that was also flipped to Toronto and turned into Travis Dermott, and a third rounder that was sent to Detroit and turned into a guy with nine more NHL games than you or I have.

BLUE JACKETS RECIEVE: The ability to protect Josh Anderson, Joonas Korpisalo, and Jack Johnson
GOLDEN KNIGHTS RECIEVE: David Clarkson, 2017 1st, 2019 2nd, the ability to select William Karlsson

Fast forwarding three years to the Vegas expansion draft, we have a questionable trade that turned out both way better and way worse than it should have. First, the good. Josh Anderson and Joonas Korpisalo would both play instrumental roles in Columbus for the next three years, with Korpi still serving as backup(?) goaltender. Jack Johnson was instrumental in changing the culture of the CBJ locker room post-Nash, so keeping him makes sense. And the picks didn’t turn into anyone good! Kristain Vesalainen (24th overall in 2017) notched three points in 53 games last year in Winnipeg, but has yet to play this season, and Samuel Fagemo has the same statline in 13 games over the past two seasons.

And now the bad. If the Jackets still had those picks, they may have made slightly different decisions. Jake Oettinger was selected two picks after Vesalainen, and... (checks Wikipedia) ...wow the 2019 draft sucked. But that’s besides the point, as William Karlsson became a scoring machine in Vegas. He scored 43 goals in Vegas’s inaugural season, added 35 assists to bring his total to 78 points on the year, and led the Golden Knights to a miracle run to the Stanley Cup Final, notching 15 points in 20 postseason games. He’s been declining from there, posting just 35 points last season, but that would’ve been eighth best on last year’s Jackets.

BLUE JACKETS RECIEVE: Ryan Dzingel, 2019 7th
SENATORS RECIEVE: Anthony Duclair, 2020 2nd, 2021 2nd

Ah, the duality of man. On February 22, 2019, Jarmo Kekalainen made one of the best trades in franchise history. On February 23, 2019, he made one of the worst. Ryan Dzingel’s time in Columbus could best be described as a flop. While he posted the same 4-8-12 stat line as Duchene in the regular season (which is incredibly surprising in retrospect), he was incredibly underwhelming in the playoffs. He averaged 11:27 in nine playoff games, recorded one assist, 11 shots on goal, and eight hits. That’s about it. Yes, it’s a fun, hometown return for Dzingel, but two 2nds is too much for that production.

Oh yeah, and we also gave up Anthony Duclair, who’s blossomed into a legitimate second line threat. Since the trade, Duclair’s been on 50-, 61-, and 64-point paces. He hasn’t played this year due to injury, but this trade is horrifically bad.

BLUE JACKETS RECIEVE: Devin Shore
DUCKS RECIEVE: Sonny Milano

Compared to the trades preceding and following this, the Milano-Shore swap honestly wasn’t that bad. Milano was stuck in the mud in Columbus (though that’s not his fault at all), and Devin Shore was brought in more for his physical presence than his scoring touch. Still, there’s no question that the Ducks got the better player, as Milano combined with Trevor Zegras to form one of the most entertaining lines in the league last year, and scoring the best goal in NHL history. Meanwhile Devin Shore provided a goal and an assist in six games before being banished to Edmonton.

BLUE JACKETS RECIEVE: 2023 3rd, 2023 4th
KRAKEN RECIEVE: Oliver Bjorkstrand

We all knew this one would be here. Oliver Bjorkstrand was a homegrown talent, drafted late in the third round in 2013, developed through the Blue Jackets system. He was a bit streaky, but reliable for 20+ goals and 35+ points each season. He was finally breaking out, ending his CBJ career with three straight seasons on a 60-point pace. And we got a third and a fourth for him. It sucks. It’s bad. It’s sad. Thanks, Erik Gudbransson.