Praise for Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen is becoming as ubiquitous as the scorn that was heaped upon his predecessor, but that’s just going to be how it is when Kekalainen continues to thrive in his first NHL GM gig.
The latest example: Winning a game of contractual chicken with Vezina Trophy winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who agreed to a two-year, $11.25-million deal on Monday.
That’s a cap hit of $5.625 million, according to the Columbus Dispatch. That puts him right behind the newly-signed Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes as the 10th highest cap hit for a goaltender in 2013-14.
“Re-signing Sergei Bobrovsky was a top priority for our organization and once again ownership has given us the resources to build a winning team. Bob is a terrific player and an outstanding young man with a work ethic that is second to none and was a well-deserved winner of the Vezina Trophy this season as the NHL’s top goaltender,” said Kekalainen in a statement. “He was a big part of the progress we made last season and we expect him to play an important role in the growth of our team."
The Bobrovsky camp was using St. Petersburg SKA of the Kontinental Hockey League as leverage, with a $10 million deal on the table to play in Russia next season. That’s on top of the chance he could get an offer sheet in the NHL as a restricted free agent – hey, don’t the Philadelphia Flyers need a goalie?
The Blue Jackets, however, had their own leverage. They could match any offer sheet. And if Bobrovsky thought the Jackets were treating him as their only goaltending option, Kekalainen was aggressively pursuing Plan B’s.
They talked to Los Angeles about Jonathan Bernier before he was traded to Toronto earlier in the week. The Jackets spoke with Vancouver regarding Cory Schneider before he was traded to New Jersey yesterday. There were also exploratory talks, reportedly, with Boston’s Tim Thomas and Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff.
The threats and posturing on both sides came to a halt less than 24 hours before the draft. There was significant progress after Kekalainen and Theofanous met Saturday night again Sunday morning.
Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets were going to have to pay Bobrovsky, given his accomplishments – the Vezina, the Hart consideration, that 21-11-6 record with a 2.00 GAA – and the competition for his services. But they managed to do so without going long-term with him, which is a pitfall other GMs fail to avoid, and to maintain his RFA status at contract’s end.
Hey, you never know if one year’s award-winning goalie is next year’s average disappointment. See Mason, Steve …
Above all else, Kekalainen has taken another gargantuan leap for the franchise in earning the fans’ trust. The idea that Bobrovsky could leave after becoming a hockey folk hero in Columbus was as much a gut-punch as the Rick Nash saga.
The good vibes from their playoff push can now carry over to next season, when the Jackets move to the Eastern Conference.
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