NOTE: This is the second part of a transcript from Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen's media session on Tuesday at Nationwide Arena.
Q: One of the things we heard prior to your arrival here is that the Blue Jackets were working really hard to take the lockout to their advantage and use that time to scout. Did you find that your staff had maybe more information than you otherwise would’ve had because of the untraditional way that the season started or didn’t start?
JK: “I don’t know, I wasn’t part of that conversation obviously, but amateur scouts will do their job, no matter whether there’s a lockout or not. It doesn’t affect their job description. The amateur games are still going on and they scout as usual. The pro scouting side is different because there’s no NHL and so they have more time to scout the American League and maybe the college games or something like that to fill in their schedule when there aren't NHL games so i think the pro scouting staff did a different look on what they normally would’ve this year and I think that’s helpful. Obviously, you know the prospects coming from the American League level better. You might get some good looks on the college free agents and so forth but the amateur process is the same. We have had our meetings and we’ll have a few more in New York and a couple more players to interview and get to know a little bit better but I think that we are well prepared already. I don’t think that there are going to be a lot of changes made on our list that we built in the final ameteur list that we built in the final amateur meetings after the combine. So I think we’re prepared, we’re ready and our scouting staff has done a good job and they're prepared, so we’re excited about this week.”
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Q: You mentioned a need for scoring. Do you think it’s more likely that you’ll find that scoring this weekend through the draft and trades, or next weekend come free agency?
JK: “I think it’s the trades and especially the draft is more in our control where we can aim at drafting the players that we like, that we think can bring us that scoring in the future. With a trade, you always need two to tango. Free agency you’re going to have potentially 29 other teams interested in the same player. No matter how hard you may like or may want the player and have a real good package and offer the great contract and all the other advantages you might think you may have, the player still might like the team next to you better. You can sell all you want, but he might have his mind made up that that’s where he wants to go. I think the draft is a real good opportunity for us both in trying to trade or make picks.”
Q: In your evaluations of the talent in this draft do you think it’s more beneficial for this franchise to have the quantity of those three first round picks or would it be more beneficial to get the quality and move up?
JK: “It’s not easy to move up, I can tell you that. I’ve talked with a couple of you and just from my past experience with the draft was here in 2007 we had three first round picks with St. Louis [Blues]. We tried every possible scenario to try to move up from nine to one, from nine to two, from nine to three, and so forth. We couldn’t even move from nine to seven and seven was Columbus’ pick at the time. We tried a lot of different things to try to move up. When other teams know that there are good players and they do their homework, it is not easy to move up.”
Q: You mentioned you have done this before, that you’ve been involved in these drafts, but not as a general manager. How has your approach changed or have you changed your approach at all being in a different role this time?
JK: “One thing I learned from my drafts--I was fortunate enough to have general managers that had experience in the scouting field and they understood how the draft worked obviously--I think that as a general manager I was fortunate that those guys always provided the best possible opportunity for the scouting staff with the moves they made so that’s the philosophy I’ll have going into this weekend where we have three first round picks and we’re going to do everything we can to provide our scouting staff the best possible opportunity, whether it’s keeping those picks, moving up, or possibly moving back and getting some more picks and opportunities to pick players. The probabilities are not that high but if you have ten picks and the probability at the end of the day doesn’t really matter if the quantity of the players you get that might contribute in the NHL. So if you have 15 darts to throw and you count the thirty percent or the fifty percent out of that or whatever your percentage might be, it’s a lot more quantity than taking the same thirty percent out of eight picks or six picks.”
Q: At this point does it look like you will have any opportunity to get into the top four or five? Have you ruled that out?
JK: “We’re not going to rule that out until the sixth pick comes along and we’re out of it. So we’re going to keep trying. Like I said, it’s not going to be easy, but we’ll try our best in different scenarios but obviously we’ve made our evaluation of what the value of that pick will be and then we’ll make our offers accordingly. We’re not going to go crazy and try to get there just for the sake of getting there. If the price gets too steep, we’re just going to stay where we are.”
Q: There’s been talk with the salary cap going down for the first time, teams may need to be moving players that they otherwise may not want to move in order to be under the salary cap. In your conversations, is that coming into form now? Are teams beginning to look at the process of moving established players to get under the salary cap?
JK: “Yeah, we have had conversations with a few teams about that. I think that’s something we’re going to look at very long and hard with our first round picks. If there’s a player that makes sense for us not only in the short term but in the long term, to trade for one of our first round picks, that’s definitely something that we’ll consider. We’ve had some talks about that type of situation but nothing conclusive yet so we’ll keep working at it.”
Q: Bobrovsky becomes an RFA on July 5. The KHL seems to be operating from the perspective that on July 1 they can make an offer. Is July 1 any sort of a deadline for you in terms of them being able to make an offer?
JK: “Again, we can’t compete with the KHL. That’s a different league and they have different budgets and different rules there and we’re going to operate under the NHL structure and contracts that have been signed in this league and the comparables that we’re going to get from other goalie contracts with the NHL.”
Q: Just wondering what the rest of your week is like leading up to Sunday. You’ve talked about the evaluations that are being done. Are you pretty much set and it’s just a matter of waiting for Sunday? From an organizational standpoint what’s going on for the draft?
JK: “I'm going to travel to New York tomorrow and we’re going to meet with our amateur staff on Thursday. Then we’ll have some interviews and meet with a few players again. Some of them we’ve already met at the combine. But then we’re going to get back together for meetings again to see if we gathered any more information from the interviews, the additional interviews and maybe tweak the list a little bit. Paul Castron and Tyler Wright are going to make the final calls on our list obviously and then we’ll put the books together and make the final list the night before the draft and be ready to go. I don’t believe in making huge changes at this point. You’ve worked on the list all year, you’ve watched all those games, so we shouldn’t be making a lot of changes at the end of June, otherwise I don’t know why you keep going to 200 games and watching some of those players 20 or 30 times and putting them into the order if you’re going to make those changes now. At the same time, you’re going to find out some additional information and you’re going to have to take that into consideration, but there are going to be a lot of conversations and a lot of different scenarios and every year there seems to be something that comes up in the last second. I remember we had I think the 21st pick in Ottawa when we were going into the draft and 7 a.m. the day of the draft we suddenly had the second overall pick and picked Jason Spezza. So a lot of things can happen just before the draft."
Q: Do you have any updates on potential progress with any of your other restricted or unrestricted free agents? Specifically [Anisimov]?
JK: “We’ve done all our qualifying offers and all of those are going out and we just want to respect the process so that we communicate with the players before we announce anything and that’s going on right now and we’ll let you know as soon as we can. Like I said, I’m optimistic that Artem Anisimov will get done here shortly. And we’re working on [Bobrovsky].”
Q: Because of the picks you have, how important is it to get it right? How impactful could this draft be for this franchise?
JK: “It’s very important, obviously. It’s a great opportunity, so don’t waste an opportunity when it’s there. You don’t very often get three first round picks and everyone says that it’s a good draft, so it’s an opportunity to get three very good players in the positions that we’re in now. Positions could change; we might end up with two firsts and three seconds, you never know. That’s the way this works. I’ve moved back several times before in the draft where you feel that 'okay we’re sitting at 27 and we think that we’re still going to get a player in the 30s and there’s a trade available that would give us the 38 and 46 pick or something,' then I think it’s worth the gamble. But it’s going to be nerve-wracking to wait and see if [that player] is still there. At least this year [the NHL Draft] is not divided into two days where you go into the second day and have to wait overnight because you do the whole thing, the whole draft, in one day from the afternoon into the night. It’ll be interesting to see when we get done on Sunday. I think it’ll be Monday before we get done, but we’ll see.”