It’s been kind of a surreal 18 hours as a Blue Jackets fan. Last night as my son and I got into the car after hockey practice, I looked at my phone to check messages. I had some texts from a couple hockey buddies – “Howson Gone” “Howson Canned” and then some twitter mention in French about Howson – I think it was a Pornbot. To be honest, my first reaction was shock. The Jackets had made a move. Personally, it was a much needed move. Long have the Blue Jackets put people into positions where they wouldn’t be successful, and Howson was one of those people. I am not calling Howson a bum, or a good-for-nothing, but Howson all-in-all was not the most effective General Manager for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Not 12 hours later, the Blue Jackets announce Jarmo Kekalainen as the new GM. Bloggers of the world scramble to update their spell check.Howson had mostly missed on the draft, and has thus far traded his only first round pick that has turned into an everyday NHLer - Voracek. The jury is still out on Johansen, but last year should be a guide book of how not to prepare a teenager for the NHL. Howson has made some good trades, and Howson has made some bad trades. The most glaring of those bad trades being the one that brought Jeff Carter to Columbus. Everyone in the NHL knew he was damaged goods, and Howson brought him here anyways. The doom of that trade revealed within the first 48 hours of it being announced.
How will I remember Scott Howson? The 2011-2012 season: the attitudes in the dressing room, the lack of heart, and the coach who lost the room. All those things were a direct result of actions that Scott Howson had taken or failed to address as VP of Hockey Operations and General Manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets. To me those were not signs of ineptitude, but more a result of not being the most effective general manager. Perhaps it was he who had lost the room?As a fan who has a high measure of expectation for the Columbus Blue Jackets, I am most disappointed that the Blue Jackets were the brunt of most front office and dressing room jokes throughout the NHL. The franchise is not taken seriously by its peers in the league. The Blue Jackets are the team you didn’t want to be traded to. The Blue Jackets are the team where it’s completely inexcusable to lose to them. This is where I feel Howson and Priest collectively failed as the Executives in Hockey Ops. When every team in the league chuckles and shakes their head at the franchise, you may not be accomplishing what you wish to achieve.
In comes John Davidson. If anyone was surprised by Howson being relieved of his duties then I’m guessing you’ve largely disagreed with what I’ve written above, or were defending Howson while you read it. Davidson has already said it, "The lifeblood of this franchise is going to be its drafting going forward. That's the game plan here, and how we're going to get to where we want to go." Say what you will about Howson, he has not done well in the draft or developing talent. The development has largely been rushed, with a three-balled fan base anxious to see high draft picks in the the line-up without fully understanding the road to the NHL. It’s possible that the best thing that happened to the CBJ was them placing second in the NHL draft lottery last year. Howson or not, I don’t see Yakupov being a good fit in Columbus.
Davidson’s decision to relieve Howson of GM duties was one that I am certain has been road-mapped since October 24th. If nothing else, it’s a sign to the rest of the league that ownership is adamant about being taken seriously and is engaged in a top-down approach to changing the culture in Columbus. While I am a little bit nervous that the announcement of Kekalainen means the position of GM with the Blue Jackets still requires no previous experience, Davidson has chosen a person he trusts, has worked with before, and who seems at first glance has the proven track record to build the team the way that Davidson envisions.
What am I looking forward to the most from the Davidson/Kekalainen era? I’m looking forward to the time when I can visit friends from out of town and they greet me with “Wow, the Blue Jackets have really started to turn things around” instead of the usual “Why does your team suck?” It’s a sad thought indeed when a few front office employees in the NHL squarely place the blame of the Blue Jackets misery upon my shoulders the last decade. Hopefully Davidson can turn things around for me. Getting trolled in Christmas cards each year is starting to get old. My wife is a Wing’s fan, so she provides no solace.