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What’s next in Carolina, Columbus, Winnipeg? –



What’s next in Carolina, Columbus, Winnipeg? –

It was a bumpy season from the get-go for the Columbus Blue Jackets who, before training camp even opened, fired head coach Mike Babcock. By the time the season had ended and the franchise missed the playoffs for a fourth season in a row, GM Jarmo Kekalainen was also dismissed.

It doesn’t seem it will be long before they announce Kekalainen’s replacement, with Don Waddell rumoured to be joining the Blue Jackets as early as Tuesday of this week. Waddell, who was GM of the Atlanta Thrashers for 12 years and led the Carolina Hurricanes for the past six, stepped down from his post last week and was immediately connected to Columbus’ opening.

“It sounds like he’s going to be the president and GM to start, how long does that stay?” Elliotte Friedman wondered on Monday’s 32 Thoughts: The Podcast.

In Steve Simmons’ Sunday column this past weekend, the Toronto Sun columnist wrote that “Ken Holland could be heading to Columbus along with Waddell” and that both men would occupy senior hockey operations positions on the staff. Simmons noted that Waddell and Holland have worked together before with the Detroit Red Wings before Waddell joined the expansion Thrashers.

“It seems weird to me that that would be a duo, but that rumour is definitely out there,” Friedman said. “It’s going to be interesting to see where Columbus goes in terms of building out their front office now.”

However the front office comes together, the disappointing start-to-finish season Columbus had requires some reaction and change. Pascal Vincent, an assistant at the start of the season who stepped into the head job after Babcock’s dismissal, could yet become a casualty if a new Blue Jackets manager decides to jump into that market. Of course, if Columbus hires another new head coach, it’d be their third change at the position in a little over a year.

More pressing for a new manager could be how to proceed with a young lineup that’s still evolving and if any changeover is required. It’s no secret the Blue Jackets are looking for centres and had been for some time under Kekalainen.

“The big one to me is probably Patrik Laine,” Friedman said on The Jeff Marek Show Monday. “Laine finished last season, he needed some mental help work and that was very important and you hope he’s in a good place. But one of the things I think about after players need that kind of a break is do you feel you’re in the right situation, or do you have to look for a different situation? I don’t know the answer, I’m not reporting anything here, but I think there would have to be a conversation with Laine.”

Laine, who has two years remaining on his contract, played just 18 games in 2023-24, scoring six goals and adding three assists. He left the team to join the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program in January and last played a game on December 14.


When Waddell left the Hurricanes the team announced that Eric Tulsky would take over GM duties on an interim basis. Tulsky, who has been with the team for a decade and comes from an analytics background, had been an assistant under Waddell.

But while Tulsky could be a candidate for the full-time position, Friedman noted that owner Tom Dundon may still be seeing room for another experienced voice in a senior front office position.

“I would think if it’s an internal hire it’s going to be Tulsky,” Friedman said. “However, I’ve also heard from a couple different people that Dundon really likes the way his front office was set up in the sense that he had somebody there who knew the personalities across the league very well and could deal with them on the level that Don Waddell could.

“One name someone threw at me the other day was someone like Chuck Fletcher where he would fill that role and Dundon, Tulsky, et al., would still consider to make a lot discussions, lead a lot of the decision making, but a Chuck Fletcher type person would be in the Waddell chair. I don’t know it’ll end up being Chuck Fletcher, but someone was saying if that’s what they’re looking for that’s the kind of person they saw doing that job.”


The Winnipeg Jets officially unveiled Scott Arniel as the head coach to succeed Rick Bowness behind the bench, promoting an assistant coach who represents something closer to status quo than a change in direction.

The Jets, after all, won 52 games and posted 110 points this past season before falling in five games to the Colorado Avalanche. And while some degree of change will have to be considered on contracts for a player like Nikolaj Ehlers (one year left), there are indications GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is attempting to keep mid-season trade pickup Sean Monahan.

Monahan, who was acquired for a first- and third-round pick from Montreal in February, scored 13 goals and 24 points in 34 regular-season games with the Jets, but only managed one assist in the playoffs. He’ll turn 30 in October and 2023-24 was his healthiest season in years.

“There was definitely a sense Winnipeg wants to keep him, is trying to keep him, and what are the dominoes that could fall if they do keep him,” Friedman said.

Monahan is a pending UFA who just played on a one-year contract with a $2 million AAV to prove his health and ability to still produce down the middle.


After so many recent coaching hires, just the Seattle Kraken and San Jose Sharks remain undecided. But it seems both are narrowing down their searches and getting close to making a decision.

Friedman reported Monday night that Dan Bylsma is poised to get the Seattle job.

Bylsma, who won a Stanley Cup in 2009 after taking over the Pittsburgh Penguins midway through the season, was last seen behind an NHL bench as a head coach in 2017 with the Buffalo Sabres. After missing the playoffs twice with that rebuilding team, Bylsma joined the Red Wings as an assistant from 2018-2021. He’s spent the past two years as the head coach of the Coachella Valley Firebirds, Seattle’s AHL affiliate, and lost in the Calder Cup Final last season. This season, the Firebirds are still playing in the AHL’s Western Conference Final.

The other job opening is in San Jose, where the rebuilding Sharks still face a long-term, uphill rebuild.

“In San Jose I think (Ontario AHL head coach) Marco Sturm had his interview recently. I think (Tampa Bay assistant) Jeff Blashill was due a second one someone told me. And (Sharks assistant) Ryan Warsofsky, another person told me, they think he had two (interviews).”


As the Tampa Bay Lightning navigate their off-season, the biggest question is what they’re going to do about Steven Stamkos. The team captain and 40-goal scorer in 2023-24 has expressed his desire to stay with the Lightning, and GM Julien BriseBois also said he was “very hopeful” to get a deal done with the 34-year-old.

So, it was something of a head-scratcher when Tampa Bay traded for Ryan McDonagh last week, acquiring him back from Nashville after trading him there for cap-cutting reasons two years ago. The Lightning haven’t won a playoff series since moving McDonagh out, and felt it important to bring back the left shot defenceman to round out their top four.

But McDonagh returned with his full $6.75 million cap hit for two seasons, and the Lightning didn’t trade out any salary to Nashville. Still, BriseBois didn’t hesitate when asked if that contract could affect his ability to also keep Stamkos.

“We’re still able, in my mind, to get something done that makes sense for the organization with Steven, even after acquiring Ryan McDonagh,” Brisebois said, according to Tampa-based reporter Chris Krenn. “We still have some cap space to get done what I think we need to get done this off-season.”

With only about $5 million in projected cap space, per CapFriendly, it seems the Lightning will have to shed money in other ways if they’re to keep Stamkos.

Friedman said one player to watch on that front is Tanner Jeannot, who makes $2.665 million against the cap for another season.

Jeannot was acquired from Nashville in 2023 for a haul of draft picks, including a first-rounder, but his on-ice production has not kept up. In two years with the Lightning, Jeannot scored eight goals and 18 points in 75 games after getting 24 goals and 41 points in his last season with Nashville.

“It really hasn’t worked out as well as everyone hoped there, but there are a lot of teams out there that see something and they think he’s more the player in Nashville than he was the player in Tampa Bay,” Friedman said.

“I do think that, depending on everything Tampa’s going to want to do, they’re going to have to consider it and I do think there are teams out there that are interested.”

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