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Kekalainen: 'I'd be a lot better' if I got another GM job

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Jarmo Kekalainen believes he'd be much improved if given another opportunity to be an NHL executive.

"I'd be a lot better general manager the second time around," Kekalainen told's Jon Lane. "I'm also realizing that I'm not ready to retire, so I'm staying active. I've (scouted) some games to make sure that I stay current with the other prospects coming into the NHL, which is a lot of NHL hockey, college hockey, major junior, (AHL), so I'm definitely full of energy and ready for the next challenge as well."

The Columbus Blue Jackets fired Kekalainen on Feb. 15, almost exactly 11 years after they hired him on Feb. 13, 2013. He became the first European GM in NHL history, and the club went 410-362-97 in 869 regular-season games during his tenure.

The Jackets made the playoffs five times in that span, including in 2019 when they swept the 62-win Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round to win a series for the first time since joining the league in 2000-01. They reached the postseason in four straight years from 2017-2020, though they were bounced in the first round in the other three.

But Columbus struggled mightily in recent years, finishing no higher than sixth in the Metropolitan Division in the last three seasons and missing the playoffs in each of them. The Blue Jackets sat last in the Eastern Conference when they fired Kekalainen, who explained this week that he tried not to fixate on his future amid all the losing.

"You try to put it aside," he said. "When things go bad for an extended period it might creep up a little bit, but you just try to concentrate on your job and do the best you can, and other people make the decisions on your tenure."

The 57-year-old started his NHL executive career as director of player personnel with the Ottawa Senators in 1999, moving on to the St. Louis Blues as assistant GM and director of amateur scouting in 2002. When the Blues hired Doug Armstrong as GM over Kekalainen, the Finn returned to his homeland to occupy that position with Jokerit. He remained there until the Blue Jackets came calling in 2013.

"I've heard a saying that in this business, it's not a matter of if (you'll get fired), it's a matter of when," Kekalainen said. "It happened for the first time to me now, getting fired, so that's obviously not something that I wanted to experience.

"Now that I've gone through it, it's part of the business and I'm very appreciative of all the opportunities that I got here. The ownership is unbelievable and supportive and let you do your job. I've worked with John Davidson in two different organizations, with the Blues and then the Blue Jackets. He's a great man and I've enjoyed working with him."

Davidson was part of the Blue Jackets front office staff that hired Kekalainen 11 years ago. After returning to the club in 2021, he was also part of the group that let Kekalainen go in February.

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