HELSINKI – Jokerit Helsinki GM Jarmo Kekäläinen takes over in Columbus, as he was hired to replace Scott Howson as the GM of the Blue Jackets. Before signing with Jokerit in 2010, Kekäläinen had been the St. Louis Blues’ assistant GM, reporting to John Davidson, then-President of Hockey Operations of the Blues, now President of Hockey Operations of the Blue Jackets.
“I’ll just roll up my sleeves and start work so we can build a team that can play for the Stanley Cup,” Kekäläinen said in a press conference in Helsinki on Wednesday, and added that he’ll leave for Columbus as all paperwork has come through.
Kekäläinen becomes the first European general manager in the NHL. He’s the first European in this bastion after many European players and fewer European coaches and referees who appeared in the NHL.
“I’m obviously proud to be a Finn, but I don’t think it matters whether I’m European or not. I don’t think it’s a disadvantage, and I don’t think it’s an advantage. It’s just hard work that matters there,” Kekäläinen said.
“This has been my dream since the day I retired as a hockey player. I want to thank the McConnell family, and John Davidson who’s a long-time friend, for this opportunity,” he added.
Kekäläinen, a former Finnish national team player, played 55 games in the NHL, with the Boston Bruins and the Ottawa Senators. He represented Finland in the 1991 Canada Cup and retired in 1995.
After a stint as a player agent, he became the GM of HIFK Helsinki and led the club to a Finnish championship in 1998, with, for example, Olli Jokinen, Jarkko Ruutu, Tim Thomas and Brian Rafalski on the roster.
“I started as a part-time scout for the Senators, and wasn’t even getting paid but I thought maybe if I worked hard and well, I would one day,” he said with a smile.
“Challenges are important for me, and I can’t wait to attack this one. This is a big year for the Blue Jackets, we have three first-round picks in the first round, and we’ll start building for the future. First I have to learn the organization, and the prospects so I’ll go there with an open mind,” he added.
Kekäläinen signed with Jokerit in May 2010.
“About three years ago, we held a press conference to announce that Jarmo had signed a five-year deal with us. There was also a gentleman’s agreement that said that if Jarmo gets a deal with an NHL, he can get out of the contract,” said Harry Harkimo, Jokerit Helsinki’s chairman.
“That situation arose at the end of last week, and we’re just proud of the fact that the first European GM comes out of the Jokerit organization,” he added.
The CEO of the Jokerit group, Keijo Säilynoja, a former Jokerit and Finnish national team player, will assume parts of Kekäläinen’s duties until the club has worked out its new organizational structure, said Harkimo.