Michael Arace commentary: Jackets need Kekalainen to pass first test as GM
Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen must negotiate a new contract with Sergei Bobrovsky, the Vezina-winning goaltender. It is a task that might be beyond a man with 134 days of experience. Shoot, in this case, 134 years of experience might not be sufficient.
Yet, the Jackets’ long-forlorn faithful, compelled by a sudden and unexpected taste of victory, beseech: Get it done, Jarmo.
“Nobody wants to lose the Vezina winner,” Kekalainen said yesterday when he met the media for a pre-draft confab.
“I’ve said it before: We need players who want to play for the Blue Jackets. I’m very optimistic Sergei Bobrovsky wants to play for the Columbus Blue Jackets. I’m hoping he wants to continue on that path and grow with the team.”
Kekalainen is a bright man. We know that. He is renowned for identifying and developing talent, traits that drew the Jackets, who are rebuilding, to him. He is surrounded by a support group that includes president of hockey operations John Davidson, senior adviser Craig Patrick and assistant GM Chris MacFarland.
Kekalainen is in terrific physical shape. We know that. He has, for fun, adopted his players’ offseason training regimen. In another week or two, he’ll be ready for World War Z.
Is he fit to get a deal done with Bobrovsky? We have no idea. He is a rookie GM with no track record, and he is in a negotiation that none of his colleagues would wish on anybody.
Bobrovsky made $1.75 million last season, and, one way or another, he is due a huge raise. He is a restricted free agent. If he is not re-signed by
July 5, he can accept (hefty) offer sheets from other teams. He also has arbitration rights, and if he goes that route, he probably will win. Mr. Vezina is Mr. Leverage.
What is he worth now? That is one heck of a question. In three years, he has excelled over 11/2 seasons and bombed in one. Who are his comparables? That is another great question. Martin Brodeur or Jim Carey? Patrick Roy or Andrew Raycroft? It all depends on which side of the negotiating table one sits.
As if this were not fraught enough for Kekalainen, the specter of the KHL looms.
The Russian website R-Sport earlier this week quoted Alexander Medvedev — who presides over both the KHL and one of its franchises, SKA St. Petersburg — as saying that he already has extended an offer to Bobrovsky. Medvedev also made it clear that if Bobrovsky wants to start in goal for Russia in the Sochi Olympics next year, St. Petersburg would be the best place to warm up.
So, if you are Bobrovsky, and you grew up in a country where an Olympic gold is prized above the Stanley Cup silver, and the president of the KHL and owner of the team you played for during the lockout is exhorting and/or extorting you to come home, and he is reportedly offering
$10 million … man, what do you do?
If you are Kekalainen, how do you counter?
“I’ve been in this situation before when I was working in Finland, where when you heard ‘KHL,’ it was, ‘OK, thanks for coming and see you later,’ because it was just a different ballgame from Finland in terms of salary structure,” Kekalainen said. “The NHL is a lot closer to it. We have our own salary structure with this league and with this team, and that’s something we have to respect. That’s what our work is based on.”
Presumably, Kekalainen will make a reasonable offer, but it won’t be
$10 million per. Then, it will be up to Bobrovsky. He will have to weigh playing in the NHL against playing for his country in the Olympics. It will be a tough call. Either way, he wins, and he loses.
Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.