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Kekalainen did what he could to help Blue Jackets at deadline

Blue Jackets GM juggled past, future while adding Devin Shore to lineup

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

In the end, the math just didn't work out for Jarmo Kekalainen. 

A year after being the star of the show at the NHL's trade deadline, acquiring four veterans to help with the Blue Jackets' playoff push, the Columbus general manager found his hand looked much different this time around.  

It was always going to be that way with no pending big-ticket unrestricted free agents on his roster and two straight years of buying at the deadline, but the recent rash of injuries to hit his team further impacted his ability to make deals. Any trade he would consider making was one that was going to help his team now and in the future, and pickings were slim.  

As a result, one of the quieter trade deadlines in Blue Jackets history passed without a major move. Shortly before the deadline passed, Columbus acquired forward Devin Shore from Anaheim for Sonny Milano in a straight-up, one-for-one deal. The team also dealt Markus Hannikainen, who played 91 games with the team the past four seasons but has not suited up for a game this year, to Arizona for a conditional seventh-round pick.  

"We did our best," Kekalainen said. "If we do our best, we can look in the mirror and say that's all we can get accomplished, and I'm fine with that. I can assure you that was our best effort to do whatever we could today that would make sense not only in the short term but for the long term as well. We're not happy with the injuries that we have, but that's something out of our control." 

A native of Ajax, Ontario, Shore will add depth to a forward group that has been handicapped by injury, as he can play both center and wing and has earned power-play time throughout his career. The 25-year-old restricted free agent-to-be has four goals and 10 points in 39 games; a second-round pick in the 2012 draft out of the University of Maine, he has a 38-66-104 line in 282 career games with Anaheim and Dallas.  

Milano leaves Columbus having a 5-13-18 line in 46 games this year and 20 career goals with the CBJ as well as 42 points in 116 games. 

"I think we gave Sonny lots of opportunities to show us his potential, and we saw a different type of player in Devin Shore that we think can help us, and we wanted to go with that opportunity," Kekalainen said. "We wish Sonny the best of luck from now on in Anaheim. 

"(Shore is) still a player that's well in his prime years for the next who knows how many years. It should be many, and we'll get a good look at him this year and see how he fits in our future plans." 

Shore goes from an Anaheim team that is essentially out of playoff contention to the heat of a playoff race in Columbus, something he said excites him down the stretch. 

"I'm really looking forward to getting in there and being part of a playoff race," he said from the airport in California, as he plans to meet the Blue Jackets in Minnesota ahead of Tuesday night's game. "It should be a great breath of fresh air. I'm genuinely thrilled. It should be a lot of fun." 

Unlike a year ago, it wasn't a big day when all was said and done when it comes to the number of moves, but it was also a unique situation for sure, with Kekalainen caught a bit between two worlds. There's this season, in which the Blue Jackets have battled back from a rough start to put themselves right in the mix of the Eastern Conference playoff race. With 74 points going into tonight's game vs. Ottawa, the Blue Jackets are tied with Carolina for the final wild card spot, though the Canes do have games in hand. 

But there was also the reality of trade inventory, especially given how the injuries have cut into the team's healthy depth at all positions. While it would have been nice to add to a team that has kept the boat afloat through all the adversity, the reality of missing such lineup stalwarts as Seth Jones, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson, Ryan Murray and Alexander Wennberg helped tie Kekalainen's hands. 

In addition, the Blue Jackets are already without a number of draft picks because of previous deals -- the second-round picks in this upcoming draft and the 2021 edition were sent to Ottawa last year for Ryan Dzingel, while this summer's third-round pick went to the Sens in 2018 for Ian Cole -- and there is a strong desire to hold on to the team's top prospects as well. 

"It's difficult, obviously, because we have so many guys hurt, but at the same time we're battling hard with this group," Kekalainen siad. "We've gotten points out of 29 of the last 34 games. We have 74 points for the season and we're still in the race. We believe in these guys that have put their heart and their soul for the team the whole year and we tried to help them the best we can, but with a lot of guys out … 

"We told everybody from the start we weren't going to be in the business of going after the high-priced rentals this spring. We did it last year. We spent some draft picks and felt it was a price to pay at that time for the opportunity with the group that we had last year. We can't do it two years in a row." 

Columbus also has traded its first-round pick two of the past three drafts, leading to that pick being essentially off limits to opposing teams at this deadline.  

Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said he understood the position the team's front office was in and is excited to add a difficult player to play against in Shore. 

"You know him and you play against him," Foligno said. "He's straight-ahead, he's a good skater, kind of does everything pretty well, so we're looking forward to having a guy that can come in, play games and can help us. He's probably hungry for more of an opportunity and he's going to get one here and have a chance to help us make a push. We welcome that with open arms." 

With the Blue Jackets boasting the NHL's youngest roster when the season started and a number of top players still coming into their own, the future remains bright because of a young core featuring such names as Bjorkstrand, Jones, Seth Werenski and Pierre-Luc Dubois, among others. In other words, mortgaging the future to help the present was not seen as viable. 

There is also the hope of the returns of some of the injured will help the team in the sprint to the finish this year.  

"We should have some forwards back soon, so that's the good news here," Kekalainen said. "Those will be our deadline additions. Probably Wennberg and Atkinson are closest to coming back. Those would be two huge additions to our group when they get healthy." 

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