Brad Larsen has been fired as coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets after two seasons without a playoff appearance, a move general manager Jarmo Kekalainen called “absolutely a necessary change that we needed to make.”
Kekalainen did not elaborate on why he thought Larsen wasn’t the right person to lead the team from behind the bench. He informed Larsen and players of his decision Saturday morning and was not interested in explaining exactly when he made it.
“We need a change,” Kekalainen said. “That became clear that we need a change.”
The Blue Jackets finished last in the Eastern Conference and 31st out of 32 NHL teams. While they were ravaged by injuries throughout the season after beginning it with expectations to contend, the call was made nevertheless to move on from Larsen, who had been under contract through next season.
Columbus lost 102 of 164 games since Larsen succeeded John Tortorella as coach. Goaltending coach Manny Legace also will not be back after five seasons on the job.
“I’m not going to dissect the strengths and weaknesses of the coaches that got let go today, out of respect to them,” Kekalainen said. “But it was a lot of things that factored in that made us come to this conclusion, and it was absolutely necessary to make these moves.”
Larsen, 45, was a Blue Jackets assistant for seven years under Tortorella and predecessor Brad Richards before getting promoted.
When Blue Jackets President John Davidson and Kekalainen chose Larsen in 2021 over more experienced coaches, including Gerard Gallant and Rick Tocchet, they cited his communication skills and thought his institutional knowledge of the organization made him the best fit. Kekalainen said Larsen had earned the promotion and that he was “going to be a fresh, new voice.”
Larsen at the time said some patience would be needed.
“I’m going to learn more now,” he said at his introductory news conference. “I’m going to make mistakes — I promise you — but that’s part of the process.”
That process in Columbus will continue without Larsen. It may include Connor Bedard, the prospective No. 1 pick in the draft who is considered the most talented generational player since Connor McDavid entered the league in 2015. The Blue Jackets have the second-highest chance, 13.5%, of landing Bedard.
Winning the lottery could change the course of the franchise that came into existence in 2000 and has not gotten past the second round of the playoffs. Kekalainen said he was not going to rush into anything in the interview process and would see how the rest of the NHL landscape looks before hiring a coach.
Larsen became the third head coach since the NHL’s regular season ended to lose his job. Dallas Eakins will not return to the Anaheim Ducks after four consecutive losing seasons, and Peter Laviolette won’t be back for a fourth season with the Washington Capitals, who missed the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.
Kekalainen won’t necessarily wait until after the lottery is drawn on May 8 to make a hire based on the outcome, even though it could affect immediate expectations.
“I don’t know if that would be the deciding factor,” Kekalainen said. “If the decision’s not made by then, it’s something that factors into what kind of team we have here next year. All those things go into the process of evaluating the next head coach and who it should be.”
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