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Blue Jackets have no regrets on moves to make playoffs

Acquiring UFAs for draft picks did not mortgage future, GM says

by Craig Merz / NHL.com Staff Writer

COLUMBUS -- General manager Jarmo Kekalainen has no regrets about how the Columbus Blue Jackets mortgaged some of their future to be in the position they are in now in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Kekalainen spoke via teleconference on Sunday, a day before the Blue Jackets host the Boston Bruins at Nationwide Arena in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

Despite Columbus trailing the best-of-7 series 3-2, Kekalainen said the decisions on and before the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25, including not trading goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Artemi Panarin, and acquiring forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel from the Ottawa Senators, were the right ones.

 

[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Blue Jackets series coverage]

 

All can become unrestricted free agents on July 1.

"We were willing to take the risks with all the UFAs that we had that they were just rentals for this spring," Kekalainen said. "At the time I said our group's worth it, and I still believe our group is definitely worth the risk. We believe in our team and we're not thinking about the UFAs right now or July 1. We're thinking about May 6."

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The Blue Jackets also acquired goalie Keith Kinkaid from the New Jersey Devils and defenseman Adam McQuaid from the New York Rangers. They will be unrestricted free agents on July 1 as well.

Among the assets the Blue Jackets let go were conditional first-round picks in the 2019 and 2020 NHL Drafts in the Duchene trade, and second-round selections (2020 and 2021) for Dzingel.

"While we value draft picks tremendously and think they're an important part of building a team it's still just a pick," Kekalainen said. "When you pick good players like we have with our scouting staff doing a great job, we have a lot prospects in our system, so we thought we had the luxury of giving up some picks because we have some great prospects coming.

"Our future is going to be good no matter what happens July 1."

The Blue Jackets knew they needed to be all-in because they felt there was a chance to not just make the playoffs for the third straight season but win a series for the first time in five tries.

They did so by sweeping the Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.

"It can't be the goal that we're happy by winning one round. We're definitely not," Kekalainen said. "We've got a great opportunity tomorrow to tie the series and get to Game 7 and move forward. That's our goal. That's been our goal all along."

Kekalainen also backed coach John Tortorella's guarantee after the 4-3 loss in Game 5 at Boston on Saturday that the series would return to TD Garden for Game 7 on Wednesday.

"Well, what's he supposed to say, 'We won't be back,' or 'We might be back?'" Kekalainen said. "We all believe we'll be back. It's a statement that could come out of everybody's mouth in our organization.

"We all believe that we can win Game 6 and be back for Game 7. It's very simple."

The Blue Jackets have never played a Game 7.

Columbus is 1-4 (1-3 at home) all-time in elimination games and has played in a Game 6 twice, losing home games in 2014 to the Pittsburgh Penguins and 2018 to the Washington Capitals. Three of the four times the Blue Jackets have been eliminated have been in front of their fans.

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