When Jarmo Kekalainen refers to Monday as a “quiet day,” he’s not just referring to his own phone line. The sound of crickets could be heard around the NHL on what’s usually an exciting day in the league.
Trade deadline day featured only 12 trades league-wide as of 4:15 p.m. ET on Monday, the lowest total in 16 years. The Blue Jackets did not make any deals before the deadline (they did ink Boone Jenner to a two-year extension), but it was not for a lack of trying; Kekalainen said earlier on Monday that groundwork for deadline day trades goes back two or three months, but if there’s not a fit, there’s not a fit.
And judging by what went down (or didn’t go down) across the NHL on Monday, he wasn’t alone.
“(It was) a quiet day,” Kekalainen said. “We tried everything we could to make things happen and improve the club in the long term, but it just didn’t happen today.”
He said he’s not disappointed in the lack of activity because the trade deadline represents one opportunity in a line of several in the weeks and months ahead.
“We’re going to continue this in the offseason,” Kekalainen said. “That’s the process – this is just one date here, the deadline day, and it passed. We’re going to continue working. We’ve got a big draft coming up this offseason and we’re going to do well there, and there are a lot of things we can do before that, too.”
The Blue Jackets’ young talent attracted a lot of attention today, Kekalainen admitted, but he was not entertaining any offers for his youthful core. If a sensible deal came across his desk that helped the team both now and in the future, it would have been considered, but such a moment never occurred.
“We’re obviously not going to mortgage the future to get benefit in the short term,” he said. “Everybody’s after our young guys and our future, but that’s not something we’re interested in.”
A variety of factors were in play today, including the number of contending teams versus the number of selling teams; on top of that, the contending teams are pressed tight to the salary cap, meaning most deals would require financial flexibility from both parties. In most cases, it wasn’t possible, so the Blue Jackets and other teams are prepared to wait until the summer when deals are easier to make.
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“I think that’s the biggest thing right now, that any team gearing up for the playoffs and trying to win the Stanley Cup is up against the cap,” Kekalainen said. “They have to get money out to get money in, and that’s hard to do. Those are concerns of many of the playoff-bound teams.”
Among the moves the Blue Jackets did make on Monday were AHL assignments for Kerby Rychel and Joonas Korpisalo. Rychel is en route back to Cleveland while Korpisalo’s assignment is, for now, a “paper transaction” so he is eligible for the Calder Cup playoffs.
As the stretch run approaches, the Blue Jackets will balance rewarding their young players with NHL playing time and also making sure they have the experience of playing the postseason and competing for a title.
“Going as far as we can in the (AHL) playoffs would be a great for any of our young players,” Kekalainen said. “We also tried to make moves today to improve our club in Cleveland. It’s really important that all our young players and prospects to experience that playoff competition at the American League level.
"We’ll still make a big effort to try to improve our club there – we believe that we have a good chance to make a deep run in the playoffs and challenge for the championship.”