Jarmo Kekäläinen

Jarmo Kekalainen would relish another chance at being general manager of an NHL team.

"I'd be a lot better general manager the second time around," Kekalainen told NHL.com. "I'm also realizing that I'm not ready to retire, so I'm staying active. I've [scouted] some games to make sure that I stay current with the other prospects coming into the NHL, which is a lot of NHL hockey, college hockey, major junior, [American Hockey League], so I'm definitely full of energy and ready for the next challenge as well."

Kekalainen, 57, was fired Feb. 15 after serving as GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets for 11 seasons, a time he said was the best of his life. He remains in Columbus, spending time at home and traveling with family while also figuring out new goals and objectives.

He had been hired Feb. 13, 2013, the native of Tampere, Finland, becoming the first European GM in NHL history. Under his watch, the Blue Jackets were 410-362-97 in 869 regular-season games, qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs five times and swept the 62-win Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019 Eastern Conference First Round to advance in the postseason for the first time since joining the NHL in 2000-01.

Many of the players who defeated the Lightning 7-3 in Game 4 of the best-of-7 series were acquired via trade (Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin, Seth Jones) or drafted (Zach Werenski, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Oliver Bjorkstrand) under Kekalainen's watch. Though never a perfect science, he never considered managing an NHL team a job and says he has a lot more to accomplish.

"It's such a thrill," Kekalainen said. "It's more of a lifestyle. I still love hockey and I love the competitive part of it. I love building a team, managing different personalities and seeing it all come together. This is what I want to keep doing and hopefully I'll get another opportunity at it. I have one goal left, which is to win the Stanley Cup, and I'm ready to do it as a grinder or first-line center and the captain or a fourth-line checker. I've always been a team player and want to stay as a team player all the way up until the end. But I'm definitely not ready to retire."

The Blue Jackets moved on from Kekalainen two days after a 6-3 loss at the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 13, their fourth in five games (1-3-1) that left them 16-26-10, last in the Eastern Conference and on a trajectory for another early offseason after four consecutive playoff appearances from 2016-20.

Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson said at the time the results "haven't been good enough." It was hard for Kekalainen to digest, though the thought of being replaced always lingered.

"You try to put it aside," he said. "When things go bad for an extended period it might creep up a little bit, but you just try to concentrate on your job and do the best you can, and other people make the decisions on your tenure.

Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen relieved of duties

"I've heard a saying that in this business, it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. It happened for the first time to me now, getting fired, so that's obviously not something that I wanted to experience. Now that I've gone through it, it's part of the business and I'm very appreciative of all the opportunities that I got here. The ownership is unbelievable and supportive and let you do your job. I've worked with John Davidson in two different organizations, with the [St. Louis] Blues and then the Blue Jackets. He's a great man and I've enjoyed working with him."

There were highlights, like sweeping the Lightning and pushing them to five overtimes in Game 1 of the 2020 first round before losing 3-2 and the series 4-1. There were setbacks, including when Panarin (New York Rangers) and No. 1 goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (Florida Panthers) each left Columbus as unrestricted free agents July 1, 2019.

Kekalainen also has a good track record when it comes to amateur scouting. He was with the Ottawa Senators as European scout from 1995-99 and director of player personnel from 1999-2002, a time when the Senators selected Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, Jason Spezza, Antoine Vermette and Ray Emery, and assistant GM and director of amateur scouting of the Blues from 2002-10 when Alex Pietrangelo, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Lars Eller, Vladimir Tarasenko and David Perron were drafted. Pietrangelo, Tarasenko and Perron were part of the core that helped St. Louis win its first Stanley Cup championship in 2019.

His background is extensive outside of hockey, with a Bachelor of Science in business administration and management from Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. He graduated from the University of Tampere in 1995 with a master's in business administration. What's next hopefully is a second chance and getting his name on the Cup.

"The progress is not linear, as one of my colleagues said, so I think that I know that process really well," Kekalainen said. "And I know that there are some learning lessons that you have to make sure that you do better next time around. But at the same time, even if you think that you've realized what you had to adjust, then something's going to be different the next time around too. You just have to believe in the process and the plan. Wins and losses are a big part of it, but there is nothing like the excitement around the game."