Kekalainen injects life into Blue Jackets with Gaborik
With one blockbuster move shortly before the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline on Wednesday, the Columbus Blue Jackets put themselves on the map as a team to watch both now and into the future.
Blue Jackets rookie general manager Jarmo Kekalainen went for it on his first deadline day in the big seat and reeled in three-time 40-goal scorer Marian Gaborik from the New York Rangers in exchange for center Derick Brassard, right wing Derek Dorsett and defenseman John Moore.
Columbus also gave New York a sixth-round pick in 2014 and brought back Blake Parlett and Steven Delisle, a defenseman they gave the Rangers in the Rick Nash trade last summer.
"We're excited as hell," Kekalainen told NHL.com shortly after the deadline passed.
Gaborik, who had to waive his no-trade clause to go to Columbus, is signed through next season and comes with a salary-cap hit of $7.5 million. Kekalainen said the Blue Jackets are interested in signing Gaborik to a contract extension, but they can't do that until July.
Gaborik said he hopes it works out for the long term.
"I think and I hope it creates excitement," Kekalainen said. "It creates excitement in our room and our office, obviously, in the last couple of hours. And hopefully it creates excitement for the city as well. We're serious about this."
Columbus president John Davidson is flying on a team plane to Teterboro, N.J., to pick up Gaborik and bring him to Nashville, where the Blue Jackets play Thursday. Gaborik is expected to be in Columbus' lineup against the Predators.
Columbus is 11th in the Western Conference, one point out of eighth place with 12 games to play. They have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs one time in franchise history (2009) and got swept out of the Western Conference Quarterfinals by the Detroit Red Wings.
"I talked to Vinny [Prospal] and he had only good things to say about the team, the city, the organization and the way they run it," Gaborik said. "He said the way they have been playing, they have been fighting for a playoff spot and they have great goaltending and I'd be a good fit. We had a good conversation about that and it's nice to see a team that really wants me."
In addition, the Blue Jackets acquired Blake Comeau from the Calgary Flames for a fifth-round pick and shipped goalie Steve Mason to the Philadelphia Flyers for Michael Leighton and a third-round pick.
Comeau will fill the physical-forward role Dorsett had with the Blue Jackets before breaking his collarbone earlier this season. Mason's contract is expiring at the end of this season and Kekalainen said the former Calder Trophy-winning goalie was too valuable an asset to let walk for free.
Kekalainen also said forward Brandon Dubinsky is healthy now and will replace Brassard in the lineup.
"I think we added into the lineup," Kekalainen said. "When healthy, I think we're stronger now."
Especially with Gaborik, who even in a down year would be third on the Blue Jackets in points (19) and tied for second in goals (nine).
"I was surprised," Gaborik told TSN shortly after the news of the trade broke, "but this is a new challenge and I'm looking forward to it."
Kekalainen's main goals before the deadline were to upgrade his team's scoring without having to give up future assets for a player with an expiring contract. He achieved both with the trade for Gaborik.
However, Kekalainen said he and Davidson felt it necessary to talk to Gaborik before the trade went down to make sure he was on board and would be willing to waive his no-trade clause. Kekalainen admitted there were some nerves in the Blue Jackets' front office before the deal became official.
"We wanted to be convinced before we even did this that he was excited about it and he would waive his no-trade clause," Kekalainen said. "Obviously that was a thing we had to get through before we could even make this deal, but also we wanted to talk to him and make sure we felt comfortable that he was excited about it, and we were.
"He seemed genuinely excited about the opportunity to come to Columbus and join our team. That's all we wanted to hear."
Gaborik may be heading to an unfamiliar place, but he knows a lot of the players on the team. Former Rangers Prospal, Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Fedor Tyutin and Tim Erixon are in the Blue Jackets' lineup.
"I played with Artie quite a bit and Dubi as well. I talked to Vinny," Gaborik said. "The most important thing was that I talked to him and he told me nothing but good things about playing there. It's good to come somewhere where there are familiar faces. I hear it's a good group of guys out there, a good team. I'm looking forward to playing with those guys again and some new guys."
Kekalainen also talked to some of Gaborik's former Rangers teammates before making the deal as part of what he called "homework."
"I've said all along, we don't look at guys just as players and what they can do on the ice, but we want to make sure that we get guys that are good teammates, good people, good character guys," he said. "We had a lot of positive reports on Marian and we believe he can be a good addition for us as a teammate, as a player and as a person."
Gaborik has struggled this season, but he had shoulder surgery in the offseason and scored 41 goals last season. He also scored 42 goals in 2009-10, his first season with the Rangers. He had 42 goals in 2007-08 when he played for the Minnesota Wild.
"I think he has proven over the course of his career that he's a pretty consistent goal scorer, offensive threat and one of the most explosive players in the League," Kekalainen said. "Our group here, our staff, was not discouraged at all about the little slump that he may have gone through this year. Everybody goes through those. It's just human.
"He's healthy. He's not old by any means. We feel he can be the same player as he has been for a long period of time in this League."
The goal is to make sure he can be that same player for a long period of time in Columbus.
"We'll get to that later here," Kekalainen said, "but that's our intention, for sure."