Trade deadline day started quietly around the NHL, but after lunch time, things picked up and the Blue Jackets were right in the thick of the news.
With rumors and speculation running wild on a slow news day (with a few of his players in that mix), Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen let the market play out after a busy Sunday of trades and didn’t make his first deal until shortly after 2 p.m. ET, sending Jordan Leopold to Minnesota in exchange for a fifth-round pick and defenseman Justin Falk.
There was a touching caveat to that deal; earlier today, a letter surfaced from Leopold’s 11-year-old daughter, Jordyn, who asked the Wild to consider trading for her dad and bring him home.
Kekalainen tweeted out the photo shortly after completing the deal and it quickly spread like wildfire with thousands of retweets and comments from around the hockey world.
“The deal was done already when we saw it, almost simultaneously I guess, but that’s a touching letter,” Kekalainen said. “He’s a great pro. We wanted to do the right thing with Jordan Leopold. That’s what we had talked about the whole time, we knew that his family was in Minnesota. There is a human side, believe it or not, to our business.
“I think that it’s great that he can go home, join his family. I see that letter and it’s really touching.”
In return for Leopold, the Blue Jackets received defenseman Justin Falk and a fifth-round pick in 2015. Columbus originally traded a 2016 fifth-round pick to St. Louis to acquire Leopold.
Falk will report to the Blue Jackets, who have some injury issues again with Kevin Connauton on the shelf “for a while,” per Kekalainen.
The Blue Jackets acquired Leopold early in the season when their defense was besieged by injuries, at one time down to five healthy defensemen. Leopold was practicing that day with the St. Louis Blues, then hopped a plane to Columbus and played for the Blue Jackets that night (Nov. 15) in a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks.
Leopold, 34, provided a solid veteran presence for the Blue Jackets both on the ice and in the dressing room, where his teammates had nothing but good things to say about him. His family was able to visit a Columbus a couple of times throughout the season and visit their dad, but it was difficult with them being thousands of miles apart.
Further complicating the matter was the Jackets getting healthier on defense. They went from five defensemen to nine healthy blueliners in a short period of time, creating a logjam on the back end that forced Leopold to the outside.
Then, injuries up front coupled with the crowded situation on defense prompted Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards to move Leopold to forward – and he did so with relative ease. Richards said numerous times how much he admired Leopold’s professionalism and willingness to step up and do whatever was asked of him.
“We knew that he wanted to return home, from his agent,” Kekalainen said. “He’s been such a great pro. There’s zero maintenance for Jordan Leopold, he just comes to the rink and does his job. Like I said, he does all the right things. We knew, we were well aware that his family was in Minnesota and that’d be his No. 1 choice if he had a say in it, and it was also a good deal.”