Blue Jackets' Ownership Was Unhappy All Season, Putting Hockey Operations on "Red Alert," Per a Report

By 1OB Staff on February 15, 2024 at 4:23 pm
John Davidson at the Columbus Blue Jackets 2023 Media Luncheon.
1st Ohio Battery

The 2023-24 season has been far from normal in Columbus.

The hiring of now-former head coach Mike Babcock was met with skepticism and, in some cases, outright mockery. His subsequent resignation four days before training camp only put the magnifying glass closer to Nationwide Arena.

At the time of Babcock's departure, Blue Jackets ownership made it clear they had almost seen enough. John P. McConnell released a statement not beefy in length but hearty in its undertones – he and his fellow owners were placing hockey operations on notice.

It culminated Wednesday in the firing of GM Jarmo Kekalainen, who leaves behind a roster of promising young talent but with many questions still to be answered.

As a refresher, here's that statement:

“Our ownership group is deeply frustrated and disappointed by the events of the past week. We have been in contact with John Davidson, Jarmo Kekalainen and our management team throughout this process and were in full agreement with Mike Babcock stepping down and Pascal Vincent leading our team as head coach," the statement read. 

“We had candid conversations with our leadership after last season about our goals and expectations for growth and progress on the ice in 2023-24. Those expectations are still in place and can still be achieved, so we do not anticipate further changes to our hockey leadership team at this time. Additional disruptions would be detrimental to our players and coaches as they prepare for the opening of training camp in two days. We will continue to have regular communications with our hockey leadership and are looking forward to an exciting season.”

On Thursday's edition of "The Jeff Marek Show," NHL insider Elliotte Friedman said the situation in Columbus was simmering before the regular season even kicked off.

"After the Babcock situation, and the statement the ownership put out at the time, everybody was on red alert," Friedman said. "If this season didn't go well, I think they knew we were coming to the end (of Kekalainen's tenure). A lot more (scrutiny from ownership) was being made into Kekalainen's decisions, and there were some things he thought about or looked at that (ownership had) pushback on that might not have been there in previous years."

The Babcock situation wasn't the only black eye the organization suffered in 2023-24.

The Blue Jackets have wrestled with the development of top prospect David Jiricek, who is currently in Cleveland. The team is, once again, sitting near the bottom of the NHL standings. After an expensive offseason that saw Kekalainen trade a first-round pick for defenseman Ivan Provorov and sign Damon Severson to a $50 million contract, the results simply have not been there.

"At the end of the day, they knew they were going to be making a change," Friedman said. "And (the Blue Jackets) said, we might as well make it now...the decisions we might make now might not be what the new regime (wants to do)."

View 6 Comments