The House That Howson Built: The Pros and Cons of Scott Howson’s Tenure as GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets
Scott Howson was named General Manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets in June of 2007. But just as the Hockey Gods giveth, the Hockey Gods taketh away. Howson was fired on Tuesday (February 12th) after what some would call 5 less than stellar seasons at the business helm of one of the youngest NHL franchises when it comes to existence in the league. Within those five years, Howson managed to trade away their Franchise player in Rick Nash to the Rangers, miss the playoffs in four of those five years (their loan playoff appearance was in his first year as GM) and wasn’t able to successfully draft many star players (however it’s still a bit early to tell with Ryan Johanson and John Moore). Having said that, Howson was able to leave pieces to the Columbus puzzle that should be useful for new General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen, who becomes the first ever European-Born General Manager in the NHL.
Though his five years were unsuccessful with the Jackets, Howson was able to bring in some pieces to the Columbus puzzle that will be able to help Kekalainen move forward with the rebuilding process. He was able to trade for former Philadelphia Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, former Rangers stand outs Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, and drafted Everett Silvertips star defenseman Ryan Murray with the 2nd overall pick in last year’s draft. With three 1st round picks in this year’s upcoming draft (one from the Kings, Rangers, as well as their own) it seems like there was good foundation laid for Kekalainen as he assumes his new duties.
Despite the good that was done by Scott Howson, it wasn’t really able to outweigh the bad. Though he received Anisimov and Dubinsky from the Rangers he had to give up perennial All Star and the first player to ever be drafted by the team in Rick Nash. He also moved forward Jakub Voracek and two draft picks (one being the 8th overall selection in the 2011 NHL Draft which turned out to be Sean Couturier) to the Flyers for Jeff Carter, who after a slow start to the season was traded to the LA Kings for Jack Johnson and a 1st round pick in 2013. What does Carter do in LA? Oh nothing much, he just reunites with his former teammate Mike Richards and ignites the Kings offense all the way to a Stanley Cup! And lets not forget that big contract he gave to James Wisniewski who yet again had his season cut short due to injuries not to mention his suspension for hitting Cal Clutterbuck.
Howson also failed to draft as well as he should have while in Columbus. While it is still too early to tell on Ryan Johanson (who at the time of this article is centering a line in the minors with the AHL’s Springfield Falcons) he never seemed to be able to find the guys who would be able to make an impact. Minus Voracek, who was drafted 7th overall in 2007 guys like Maksim Mayorov, Stefan Legein and Allan York have only made a moderate impact in the AHL and have never really been able to crack the NHL lineups, and those are just guys from the 2007 Draft. Howson also went bust on 2008’s 6th overall selection, going with Russian forward Nikita Filatov, who was traded to the Senators and is now over in Russia. The four guys that were picked after Filatov (Colin Wilson, Mikkel Boedker, Josh Bailey, and Cody Hodgson) have all played over 100 games in the NHL with Filatov only playing 53. (Three of those four have also played 200+ games in the NHL)
So what does Jarmo Kekalainen bring to the Columbus Blue Jackets? He brings an eye for finding talent. As an Assistant General Manager with the St. Louis Blues, Kekalainen played a part in drafting such stars as Alex Pietrangelo, David Perron, and Vladimir Terasenko, with the latter having a chance to become this season’s Rookie of the Year. Oh and let’s not forget he also brought in T.J. Oshie and David Backes! He played a major role in drafting the young Core guys for the Blues that lead to a division title and a playoff birth last season where they were eliminated by LA in the 2nd round.
With Jokerit, Kekalainen was able to sign both Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson and Detroit’s Valtteri Filppula during the Lockout and was able to build a team that made the SM-Liiga playoffs each of his two seasons there, with his final season earning the team a Bronze Medal. The future looks bright for Kekalainen, and as a fan of the game as a whole, I’m anxious to see what he can do with a Blue Jackets team that has been, for most of it’s years in the NHL, a doormat for the rest of the Western Conference and the league. The fanbase is hungry for another playoff birth and I think that, if given the patients, Kekalainen can turn this franchise into a team that will be playoff bound within the next five years.
As for Scott Howson, he tried his best to build this team into a winner, however his best just wasn’t good enough. But that doesn’t mean he won’t get another shot in the front office in the near future. We haven’t heard the last from Scott Howson, not by a long shot! He may have not been able to build a contender, but the foundation has in some cases been lade for one to be built. After all Rome, nor Colombus, wasn’t built in a day.