What is one of the most important components to building a successful hockey team?
According to Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen, a good team is built around chemistry.
“A lot of times people ask, ‘what exactly does (chemistry) mean?’ To me, it means trust and respect,” Kekalainen said. “That guys in the room trust each other, that they get the job done in the roles that they’re in, whether it’s a big role or a smaller role, that you know you can trust the guy next to you that he’s going to do his job, and therefore you’re going to be able to do yours and have a good future because of it.”
Kekalainen said he feels there is chemistry in the Blue Jackets’ dressing room right now, and that the club currently has a lot of the right players in place - but that will not deter their efforts to improve the club in the offseason.
“I think that we have a lot of that in our room. We have a lot of trust from player-to-player that we have the right players in place,” Kekalainen said. “They trust each other and there’s a lot of respect there, too, for each other. So that’s a very strong starting point.”
While talking to the media during exit interviews, several of the players, including alternate captain Brandon Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson, echoed Kekalainen’s comments.
“As I told the management: I believe in them,” Dubinsky said of his teammates. “I believe that they’re going to do the job that they need to do. A lot is going to fall on my shoulders trying to get these guys ready to go and get them prepared for each and every game (next season), and make sure that we find a way to come out of the gate blazing hot.”
The slow start to the 2015-16 campaign was a surprise to everyone, including the players, management and fans. Because of that, does something need to change in the room?
“Well, when you miss the playoffs a couple straight seasons, there’s always that thought," Dubinsky said. “It really comes down to the guys playing to their ability consistently each and every night. I don’t think we all did that well enough this year and that’s why we are where we are.”
Atkinson believes the group of players who ended the season together is a solid group, both on and off of the ice, but he's not oblivious to their struggles: they had difficulty finding ways to win during difficult times, and acknowledged the possibility of changes over the summer.
“When you go through (an 0-8 start), it’s doing the little things to get back to what makes you a good team, and not pointing fingers and stuff like that,” Atkinson said. “I think we have a great group of guys. Obviously, I think there’s going to be some changes this summer, but that’s not my call.”
Kekalainen said the biggest growth and changes to this Blue Jackets team will come from inside, and the foundation of that comes from the organization's commitment to drafting and developing talent.
“Once the young players take over the core and the nucleus of the team and grab the leadership roles, that’s when you can achieve something big. I think those guys are very close to doing that with the support and leadership of the veterans that we have,” Kekalainen said. “We’re going to make necessary changes in the areas needed and keep developing, keep drafting well and look at every opportunity from other alternatives like free agency and through trades, as well.
“Are we there yet? No. Can we get stronger? Absolutely - and we will get stronger.”
RELATED: Click here for complete coverage of Exit Day 2016