Jarmo Kekalainen is not afraid to make a blockbuster trade.
Two years ago, he pulled off a blockbuster trade to bring Artemi Panarin to the Blue Jackets in exchange for Brandon Saad. Then, at the trade deadline, Thomas Vanek, Mark Letestu and Ian Cole were added to solidify the lineup before the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
And he took it to another level in 2019. Kekalainen pushed his chips to the middle of the table, making major deals to acquire Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel from the Ottawa Senators, and also bringing in depth in the form of defenseman Adam McQuaid and goaltender Keith Kinkaid.
His moves at the deadline were considered dangerous because he was mortgaging some of the Blue Jackets' future on rental players, while Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky were also widely considered to be on their way out after the season. While the moves may not have lead to a Stanley Cup title, it did push the Blue Jackets into the second round – an important first for the organization.
Currently, the Blue Jackets are in a great situation: the core of the team is more experienced and the club has great flexibility when it comes to the salary cap, roster space and its lineup. This makes it hard for them to put themselves in a situation like the Maple Leafs are in right now, where re-signing a star player (Mitch Marner) is difficult due to cap constraints.
While the defensive side of the ice has a ton of depth, the offense could use another top-six player added to offset the loss of Panarin and Duchene, or a top-nine type of forward if Boone Jenner or Josh Anderson move up in the lineup. They're also waiting patiently for Alexander Wennberg to turn the corner and go back to being the player they thought he would be two years ago.
Kekalainen said the Blue Jackets are comfortable with the roster as-is, but no GM is never content with their roster – and it's a safe bet that he will continue to exhaust all resources to make the team better. Since he joined the Blue Jackets in February 2013 and made his first big trade (which brought Marion Gaborik to Columbus), Kekalainen has earned a reputation around the league for being a calculated and fearless manager – one that's not afraid to make big decisions that make his team better.