Acclaimed Finnish hockey journalist Jouni Nieminen interviews Islanders GM Jussi Kalmi, chronicling the Leon Draisaitl trade.
In a windy and frosty evening autumn evening, acclaimed Finnish hockey journalist Jouni Nieminen came to meet Isles’ GM Jussi Kalmi at Dead Rabbit bar in New York.
Kalmi was sipping his Red Breast 12-year old whiskey with a very tired, but surprisingly relaxed look on his face. They have never met, but the Finnish connection hit off immediately.
Jouni Nieminen: “Thank you Jussi (in Finland it’s pretty normal to call by first name, regardless of the position) for inviting me here and giving an proper inside of Finnish revolution in New York. What’s your first thoughts?”
Jussi Kalmi: “Jouni, first of all lovely you managed to come here from Edmonton. Big fan of your NHL articles through the years and want to give my proper first interview to someone who is from Finland and understands American mentality. And you tick all the boxes mate.
My first thought is it has been crazy times and our overall plans have changed radically in the last few days. I love coffee, but the amount of coffee and stress lately, a stomach ulcer is coming." (Kalmi laughing deeply and long)
Nieminen: “So what happened? Was it by coincidence or was this something you were looking for?”
Kalmi: “Mate, sincerely it came like a lightning from the blue sky. Woke up at 5am at my summer cottage in Finland (having few holiday days after the Dispersal Draft) and I just felt something was going on, and just woke up suddenly.
So, I put my phone on and my Head of European scouting Kari Takko had sent me a message a couple of hours before. He heard the "German Gretzky" Leon Draisaitl might be for sale. So, after a couple of espressos and a fag, and I sent a message to Calgary’s GM asking if it was true or not.
I have a great relationship with the lad. He said “Yes, he might be for sale. Send me a proper offer, if interested."
As doing offers, I go with full blast immediately, otherwise I decline to do anything. I sent an unnamed offer, a few messages went back and forth, and just like that, the deal was done!”
Nieminen: “You gave a top 1st pick and three top young guns, which you wanted firstly to grow up as top players. So, what your feelings about the trade after a few days?”
Kalmi: “Bloody hell mate, I woke up yesterday and thought Jake Bean was still my player. Did I pay too much? No, I do not think so. Draisaitl is worth it. But the main thing is that Calgary’s GM is pleased, as well as I am pleased. With Theo (the Calgary GM), it's so easy to do business. No bullshit talk, and we play with open cards. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant indeed.”
Nieminen: “So, in a nutshell, what’s your expectations and plans after this trade? Immediate success?”
Kalmi: “Mate, that’s a great question. In all honesty, I do not know. It all happened so quickly.
Yesterday, I went through everything with my closest advisors and we agreed we would follow our initial plan. A couple of years, and we will be a force. But damn, it feels good to have (Aleksander) Barkov and Draisaitl down the middle. They will make the whole team around them much better and solid. Stunning players, with team-first attitude. Actually, Barkov called me after the news and asked if it’s true or not. He was over the moon about the whole thing.”
Nieminen: “Did you contact the players you dealt, or did you just coldly leave the job to their agents?”
Kalmi: “Bloody hell, of course I contacted them all in person! I apologized, but also said that they all have great surroundings to become top players in Calgary. Shame to not to have them anymore, but that is just how it is.
To gain something, you lose something. I actually invited all of them with Calgary’s GM to my summer cottage in Finland next summer. Great people, we stay in touch on a personal level as well. Sauna, swimming in the lake, lovely fish, food, and a few beers. Lovely jubbly mate.”
Nieminen: “What happened with Shesterkin? You proudly mentioned after the Dispersal Draft that he will be one of the cornerstones of your team in future."
Kalmi: “Alea iacta est. I had to make a choice. (Ilya) Samsonov was and still is my first choice and Shesterkin was at risk not to have enough games to develop. Actually, here in Dead Rabbit few days ago, I met Shesterkin’s agent Maxim Moliver and we had a heart-to-heart chat.
Understandably, he was worried as he felt his options were extremely low due to the huge competition. We made a pact: if a good enough offer comes in, we will move him. But, I made myself very firm. If it's not a good enough offer, he will stay put.
After a couple of vodka shots, me and Maxim agreed. I received some good offers, but Kings GM Dave Covin came, and his offer was good enough. We got Morrissey to bolster our D and few added bits. I talked with Shesterkin afterwards and he thanked for the trade. So, good for us and good for the other party. What more can you ask?”
Nieminen: “I would have a few more questions. Could we go them through?”
Kalmi (interrupting): “Sorry mate. I’m more than happy you came here, but I’m tired. Due the COVID pandemic restrictions, the bar will be only open for another couple of hours. So I will use that time for refreshments.
You want a pint mate?”