Blue Jackets owner doesn’t expect changes to management at this time

Blue Jackets owner doesn't expect changes to management at this time

Columbus Blue Jackets majority owner John McConnell isn’t planning to punish the club’s front-office staff for the Mike Babcock debacle – at least not right now.

“Our ownership group is deeply frustrated and disappointed by the events of the past week,” McConnell said in a statement Monday. “We have been in contact with (president of hockey operations) John Davidson, (general manager) Jarmo Kekalainen, and our management team throughout this process and were in full agreement with Mike Babcock stepping down and Pascal Vincent leading our team as head coach.

“We had candid conversations with our leadership after last season about our goals and expectations for growth and progress on the ice in 2023-24. Those expectations are still in place and can still be achieved, so we do not anticipate further changes to our hockey leadership team at this time. Additional disruptions would be detrimental to our players and coaches as they prepare for the opening of training camp in two days. We will continue to have regular communications with our hockey leadership and are looking forward to an exciting season.”

Kekalainen and Davidson addressed reporters shortly thereafter, and the latter executive admitted they erred in hiring Babcock.

“We got it wrong, and that’s on us,” Davidson said, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline.

Davidson said those who were critical of the Babcock hiring from the beginning may have been justified, per ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski.

Kekalainen took responsibility individually for the decision.

“I believe that Mike Babcock deserved another opportunity to coach. Obviously, that was a mistake, and that responsibility’s mine,” the GM said, according to The Associated Press’ Stephen Whyno.

Kekalainen confirmed some of the Blue Jackets’ players weren’t comfortable with Babcock’s methods, before adding the ex-head coach asked him for his phone as well.

“Personally, I had no problem with it, but I can see how it might put someone in an uncomfortable situation,” Kekalainen said. The GM also mentioned that he apologized to the team Monday for the hiring.

Kekalainen and Davidson are now under the microscope after Babcock resigned Sunday amid an NHLPA investigation into allegations that he forced players – including Jackets captain Boone Jenner – to hand over their phones, scrolled through their camera rolls, and AirPlayed photos onto a larger screen.

The Blue Jackets issued denials from Babcock and Jenner shortly after podcast host Paul Bissonnette cited the allegations made to him by an unnamed player Tuesday. The NHL and NHLPA then began looking into the matter, as representatives from the latter organization travelled to Columbus to investigate.

The NHLPA was reportedly initially satisfied with explanations from Jenner and Johnny Gaudreau, but later changed course after hearing some of Columbus’ younger players were uncomfortable with Babcock’s actions.

Kekalainen has been the Blue Jackets’ GM since February 2013, when Columbus made him the first European-born individual to occupy the role in NHL history. He’s now the third-longest tenured current GM in the league despite the fact that the Jackets have won only one playoff series in his 10 full seasons at the helm.

Davidson hired Kekalainen in 2013. The former goaltender resigned as team president in May 2019 to take the same job with the New York Rangers and then returned to Columbus in his current capacity after the Blueshirts fired him in the spring of 2021.

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