Despite all that has happened over the past few month, Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen has no regrets. He tells ESPN’s Greg Wyshysnki that the team’s decision to go “all in” at the trade deadline, holding on to Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky and acquiring Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, was a “calculated risk”. Even though all four have departed this summer via free agency, Kekalainen made his best effort to retain them and isn’t doing to dwell on the players’ decisions not to return. Instead, the bold executive is focused only on the coming season. Kekalainen answered Wyshynski confidently about a number of issues facing his team entering 2019-20, but paid extra attention to the stalled contract talks with RFA defenseman Zach Werenski:
The real frustration for me [is when it] drags on into training camp, because that’s a time for ‘team’… They start preparing and jelling and building that chemistry that we need as a team. When it goes to training camp time, it takes away from that preparation. It takes away from the team. That’s what I’m concerned about. And that’s where we’ve drawn the hard line before: We don’t believe in taking that preparation time away from the team. We think it should be resolved before the team gets together and gets ready for the season.
It seems that the Blue Jackets and Werenski are no closer to a resolution in contract talks and it is starting to impact the GM. With so much talent leaving Columbus this off-season and very few new faces arriving, Columbus needs their leaders and core players in training camp to get ready for what will likely be a more challenging season. Werenski is one of those key players and Kekalainen is clearly doing all that he can to get the talented young blue liner back under contract as soon as possible. As training camp draws closer, the question will be whether the Blue Jackets cave to Werenski’s demands to ensure that their valuable “preparation” is not adversely affected.
- The division rival Washington Capitals may also be without a key defenseman in training camp and perhaps longer. Michal Kempny is still working his way back from a season-ending hamstring injury and The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir writes that there is no clear timeline for his return. Fortunately, after a summer spent rehabbing at home in the Czech Republic, Kempny has resumed skating back in D.C. and is working one-on-one with Capitals strength coach Mark Nemish. Kempny hopes to be ready for training camp, but truly has his sights set on simply being at full strength for the team’s regular season debut. “I’m getting there,” Kempny said, “I’m not 100 percent yet, for sure. I still need some time. If I’m going to make the (start of) training camp, that’s going to be great. But we’ll see… My goal is to be ready for the season.”
- At one point this off-season, veteran forward Jason Pominville was also hoping to see another opening night of NHL action, but as the summer has drawn on without much interest in the free agent, his mindset has shifted. Pominville explained to NHL.com that he is “fine with the way things ended” last season, if it was indeed the end of his playing career. The 36-year-old returned to the Buffalo Sabres two years ago, re-joining the team with which he spent the first nine years of his now 15-year NHL career, and proved that he could still be a contributor, posting back-to-back 30+ point seasons and taking on an important role in the locker room. Pominville hoped that he could return to Buffalo for another season, but since that seems like a longshot, he’s content to stay in the city and not move his family, even if that means hanging up his skates.