I’ve been writing about this team on what the kids used to call Twitter for a long time now going back to the Blue Jackets fan protest of Scott Howson. After posting about a variety of issues I had with the team on the morning of December 17, 2015, a direct message appeared from an account I was not expecting a message from–it was Jarmo Kekäläinen.
“Call me anytime to discuss,” and a cellphone number that the business card that followed showed to be his personal cellphone.
The phone call would occur a few days later. It was a bizarre moment–the guy who helped get his predecessor canned speaking to the incumbent general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets. I believe that call lasted about an hour. It was a fairly wide ranging call and there were points at which it was fairly heated–we’ll just say that I still don’t agree with Jarmo’s take on the acquisition of Nathan Horton.
One thing we did seem to agree on was a young player in Nashville by the name of Seth Jones. I had been adamant online that Jones should be a key piece of any trade of Ryan Johansen to Nashville–an idea which then-Predators GM, David Poile, tried to throw cold water on, but a trade which would come to fruition in less than a months time.
To be clear, I don’t think I gave Jarmo the idea to acquire Jones, but one of the things he said early on in our seven-plus years of discussions online was “Why don’t you send me solutions? We know the problems…As I said, I am always open for new information.”
What was made clear by each of us in those early discussions was that Jarmo would listen to ideas from a great many sources, including me, which wouldn’t always mean he’d buy off on them or implement them and from my part, I made it clear that I’d have a respectful dialogue, but that didn’t mean I was always going to agree with him and I’d make it known when I didn’t.
As the years went by, one area where we seemed to butt heads a lot was with respect to John Tortorella. It comes as no shock to anyone who has read my writing to know that I find John’s methods deplorable. Specifically, his public berating of younger players–and it’s almost always younger players–is a pointless, counterproductive and, let’s be honest, would be tolerated in absolutely no other line of work.
By Jarmo’s admission, in at least one instance, a matter that was supposed to be internal was made public by Torts and, also by Jarmo’s admission, he probably should have fired him at that point…but he didn’t.
My respect for Jarmo dimmed as a result of what I view as his less than honest portrayal in the public (and to me) regarding the departure of Pierre-Luc Dubois. From the time of Dubois’ trade until around the time Tortorella was let go by the Jackets, it had always been portrayed that the primary reasons for Dubois’ departure from Columbus was his relationship with his teammates.
It was only as Tortorella started to go to the press and say that the reason he was moving on was because he didn’t like the direction of the team that the truth came out from Jarmo–John Tortorella drove Pierre-Luc Dubois out of town and, to make matters worse, once Jarmo traded away Dubois, Tortorella had then mistreated Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic, the young men acquired in the trade.
This bothered me immensely and I’d say that it permanently changed my feelings about Jarmo Kekäläinen and his ability to manage the Columbus Blue Jackets. By that point, it was obvious to anyone that the team needed to rebuild, which meant bringing in even more young players to the franchise.
Yet, here was a GM who had already allowed one coach to have carte blanche to mistreat young players with impunity with the players being shipped off when they couldn’t handle his methods.
Even Jarmo would acknowledge that players that didn’t “fit the mold…William Karlsson, Anthony Duclair. Even Wennberg…many good players have le[f]t from here to be better elsewhere and that’s not good”.
Yet Kekäläinen protected Tortorella during this period IN SPITE OF THE TEAM’S ON-ICE FAILURES! It was as if a bargain were made with the devil and the devil didn’t even deliver on his part!
Prior to and during the hiring of Brad Larsen I was assured by Jarmo that he was a very different coach than Torts in the right ways and that he was the unanimous choice of the management team–a fact which is damning in retrospect. Additionally, the problems with the power play that Tortorella had always claimed to be Larsen’s domain were now laid at Tortorella’s door by Kekäläinen.
“I just find it so unfair that he gets blamed for PP when I see every day what is going on…when HC doesn’t want to practise (SP) it or gives PP time (for other reasons than right) to guys who really shouldn’t be in it…he should take the flame for it, not the assistant.”
The Jackets would go on to finish in the bottom 10 during Larsen’s two seasons with the team.
When it came time to replace Larsen, the rumors that started to come out were troubling. Patrick Roy, who’s coaching career includes sending players into a brawl in a junior game, was one of the initial hot rumors. Eventually, seemingly out of the blue, an even more troubling name emerged–Mike Babcock.
The list of players Babcock has been abusive towards includes Mike Commodore, Johan Franzen and Mitch Marner, but those are simply the three that we know about and the fact that those three come from three different eras suggests that Babcock probably has a number of other guys who he has victimized during his career.
Yet, if we believe Jarmo “I talked to people I know who are not only Hall of Fame hockey people but Hall of Fame people, with character. Those conversations are really important to me. They’re trustworthy people who I have a really good relationship with, and all of the feedback from people who have worked with Mike Babcock for years–a lot closer than I got to know him–were positive. Everybody says Mike’s a great coach, but more importantly they said he’s a really good person. That was basically unanimous.”
Are Mike Commodore, Johan Franzen and Mitch Marner not “trustworthy”? Because each of them paint a far different story that runs counter to the narrative Jarmo chose to accept about Mike Babcock.
In fact, two of those guys (Commodore and Franzen) have literally called Babcock the worst person in the world. That seems to undercut the unanimity of Jarmo’s poor sample size. And it begs so many questions that should be answered at today’s presser: (1) Who did you talk to? (2) Did you talk to any of his accusers? (3) In supposedly changing, did Mike Babcock ever accept responsibility and apologize to the players personally? (4) Exactly what due diligence was done in hiring Mike Babcock? And on and on.
But this isn’t the most troubling aspect to me. The most troubling aspect to me is that the General Manager who, by his own admission, allowed John Tortorella to run Pierre-Luc Dubois out of town, to mismanage other promising players like William Karlsson, Anthony Duclair and Alex Wennberg, was going to allow Mike Babcock to do something potentially even more harmful to another group of young men.
That he let a serial predator put out a press release to try and chill the testimony of his victims is damning. Bad enough that the due diligence was shoddy, but he was going to let the coach get away with it precisely by allowing him to bully his accusers. That’s unacceptable and if he had any decency left, Jarmo would resign.
Jarmo has brought immense embarrassment to this organization by his failure to do proper diligence over the past few months. That he was allowed to name another coach suggests an ownership group who cares more about tax breaks than any sort of organizational pride or basic human decency. They clearly cannot be trusted to investigate themselves, so the league needs to step in for the sake of another generation of players.
The press and fans have been lied to about these situations in the past. They both need to get answers now. For my part, I include screenshots of conversations. for confirmation.