Hopefully Jarmo Kekalainen will get a longer shot than Euros who have gone before.
With NHL coaching and managing jobs restricted almost exclusively to North Americans, there have been few breakthroughs over the years.
Alpo Suhonen, once an assistant coach in Toronto, was head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks under GM Mike Smith for the 2000-01 season. The Finnish-born Suhonen won 29 games and was replaced the next summer after complaining of heart problems.
Czech national Ivan Hlinka, meanwhile, was head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins that same season and took the club to the Eastern Conference final. But he lasted only four games into the following campaign before being fired amidst complaints from Mario Lemieux he hadn't tried hard enough to improve his command of the English language. In 2004, Hlinka was killed in car accident in his native Czech Republic.
And that's about it. Anders Hedberg has been a prominent executive/scout with several teams, but never a GM. Christer Rockstrom was viewed as a key bird dog in the building of the Detroit Red Wings, but never given the reins of an NHL team. Despite the hockey power that Russia has traditionally been, no NHL team has given signficant power to a Russian-born coach or executive.
So Kekalainen, a Finn, will be making history when, as expected, he is named the new GM in Columbus today. It's remarkable when you think Europeans started coming to the NHL in significant numbers a quarter-century ago that so few have managed to work their way up the corporate ladder. Kekalainen went to college in the U.S. and played in the NHL, plus he has worked as a highly-regarded scout for Ottawa and St. Louis.
This is new Columbus president John Davidson clearly thinking outside of the box, and good for him. Unlike the situation in Toronto, where Brian Burke was canned on the eve of the season without anything having changed from the previous season or during the lockout, the arrival of Davidson in Ohio during the lockout meant GM Scott Howson was on the clock.
Howson made the Rick Nash deal last summer which brought no new stars to the Blue Jackets, and a 4-7-2 start to this season put him in jeopardy. When less than 11,000 showed up for the final game of a six-game home stand on Monday against San Jose, it didn't matter than the Jackets came up with a 6-2 win. Something had to change for the money-losing Columbus franchise, and Howson was out.
So now the expected move to Kekalainen, which certainly marks a culture change. Good for Davidson to come up with something brave. Now we'll see if this Euro gets a longer run than those who came before.