Monday, June 20, 2011

Howson pre-draft presser thoughts

Scott Howson may have his man as head coach, but
his comments suggest that there are a lot of other
holes to fill on his team's roster.
Matt over at The Cannon was cool enough to post today's Scott Howson pre-draft press conference in its entirety.  Rather than circumvent his hard work - which includes commentary of his own - I'll simply offer you the link and encourage you to watch and read.

As for my thoughts, I'll pass on the Todd Richards stuff as I've made my opinion clear elsewhere on this blog.

Once you clear that matter out of the way, you then have this jumble of draft, free agency, trades and the roster.  I  don't think that one can set up walls between these issues because they are all so inextricably linked.  If you draft a player, that means you didn't trade the pick - which means no roster slot will need to be made (only the top one or two overall picks are projected to be NHL-ready).  But because there was no trade, that means the free agent market is more important to maximize.  Or perhaps you look at trading more existing roster assets.  It's a jumble - see what I mean?

Will the Howson Sanitation Co. ride again in Columbus?
Thus, I find myself stepping back and listening to Howson's discussion of larger themes - largely because he pretty much acknowledges the jumble himself in the presser.  In no particular order, here's what I took from his comments:
  1. You know that whole "Lack of F***ing Talent" mantra that Light the Lamp and Gallos have been pushing?  I think Howson has bought in.  To say, in his - what, 5th? - year on the job that he's looking for a top 6 center, a top 4 blue liner and a goaltender suggests that he simply does not see the talent needed to consistently win on the 2010-11 CBJ roster.  By that, I mean on all fronts.  So he's going to try to trade and spend money to get some f***ing talent into Columbus.  Good.
  2. Thanks to the insightful questioning of Lori Schmidt over at 97.1 The Fan, Howson also suggested that his efforts to import (pricey) leadership in the form of Chris Clark and Ethan Moreau (and, though not mentioned directly, Craig Rivet) did not yield the desired outcomes.  He then went into a discussion of leadership, suggesting that he's seen it growing in captain Rick Nash - but then, with a tad more gusto, certainly from R.J. Umberger.  Then he threw the younger players a bone in singling out Derek Dorsett.  Lastly, he went deeper into the relationship between leadership and winning - and knowing how to win.  Nash clearly has that experience from his Olympic and World Championship time, but so does a guy like Matt Calvert, who steered WHL Brandon deep into the Memorial Cup tournament.  Wise comments, if a bit thin on examples (perhaps again related to point number 1?).
  3. Speaking of Lori, her excellent rundown of the presser also highlights Howson's acknowledgement (resignation?) that incumbent player talent MUST be developed for the team to be successful.  I sense strains of "I can't turn over the entire team in one offseason..."  She also provides perhaps one of the money quotes from the presser related to his own performance on this front...go check it out. (Hint: He doesn't give himself a ribbon just for showing up.)
  4. On that incumbent talent front, Howson did an interesting riff on what he needed to see in order for the team to be successful.  He rattled off three or four players (including Voracek, I think, to keep everyone of the scent of Philadelphia's Jeff Carter) and offered what seemed like really high performance bars that they needed to clear.  This sounded very close to my "threading the needle" comments at the beginning of last season's "Time to Step Up" series: "No, this is a team that will have to thread the needle in 2010-2011 to achieve the success that CBJ fans have been hoping for over the past 10 NHL seasons. The margin for error is slim to none, especially in the murderers row that is the National Hockey League's Central Division."  Not that Howson's opinion coming more in line with mine makes his opinion - or mine - more valid, mind you, but it is interesting to hear him say what I've been thinking.  
  5. Most importantly out of this, it's clear that someone, something or some circumstance has lit a fire under Howson.  Is it the professional embarrassment implicit in an outright acknowledgement of two years of "failure" (his word)?  Is it an edict from John McConnell and/or Mike Priest, perhaps coming out of the top-down scrubbing of the organization?  Is it the fact that season ticket sales are just over half of Winnipeg's (and Winnipeg hasn't played yet)?  Who knows...and who really cares?  All I care is that the patient posture of past offseasons appears gone and that it looks like there's a genuine urgency to make it rain this year.  Thus, I return to an earlier concern: With the resources (salary money, tradeable assets like draft picks, players and bags of pucks) that he has at his disposal, can Howson close the deals that he needs to close?  
It's looking more and more like "Howson 2.0" is less of a fiction and more of a reality.  For Blue Jackets fans like me, the next few weeks will be nail-biters.  Howson's clearly in command of the issues, but it's not altogether clear if he can address all of them - or even enough of them - in the time he has, with the tools at his disposal.

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