April 14, 2012

Blue Jackets and Howson Standing at the Crossroads

I'm back. I really didn't go anywhere, I just checked out mentally, pretty much the same way I checked out mentally in a lot of previous seasons of Blue Jackets hockey. I still went to games. I still drove around in my car and listened to George Matthews' call the action (and treasured every second of it).  I went to #tweetups and #drinkups and #CBJtweetupdrinkups, which were a sort of group therapy for me (and they worked!) But emotionally I folded a long time ago. It was right about the time Scott Howson decided to fold the Blue Jackets' hand as a playoff contender this year.

I stopped obsessing about the Blue Jackets. I stopped allowing losses to put me in a bad mood. I stopped writing about the Blue Jackets for the most part. Why? Because I felt like a jilted lover. Devoting so much of my free time and energy to a team that had given up on itself so early in the season left me feeling sad and foolish. But I didn't stop caring. I didn't stop enjoying hockey for hockey's sake, or the comraderie and spirit of true hockey fans. As a Blue Jackets fan, I just went for a long walk.

I feel a little better now. There's nothing like a long walk, even a virtual one, to facilitate the shedding of anger and disgust, hit the emotional reset button and regain some perspective. The situation seems much more logical now. What was once so confusing and maddening makes sense at this point. What went wrong? How did the Blue Jackets get to this awful place? It's a long story. (I said it was a long walk.) But to summarize, I see it like this.

First, Howson hired Scott Arniel. Whether or not Arniel is an NHL-calibre coach is an open question, but he clearly was not the right fit for this team. Stubbornly, Howson stood by his man. And stood there. And stood there. And stood there, until it was too late.

Next, and speaking of just standing there, Howson bought into the idea that Steve Mason could turn things around and rediscover the form he flashed during his rookie season (which is becoming an increasingly distant memory). I'm sure the contract that Howson gave Mason had something to do with this. It was/is a bad contract, and putting all of his eggs in Mason's porous basket may have been Howson's worst decision of all.

Third, he traded for Jeff Carter, an egomaniacal prima donna whose very presence in the locker room likely destroyed any shred of chemistry that existed on this team. From the minute the trade was announced it started to look like Howson had been played by Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. Over the next several months, it became obvious.

There were plenty of other reasons things turned out the way they did this year, and many of them were not Howson's fault.  Still, we're talking about three critical decisions and three massive fails. Any one of those massive fails, by itself, would be enough to blow up the season of teams better than the Blue Jackets. As a whole, for a team not accustomed to overcoming adversity, they formed a crater so deep it could take years for this organization to crawl out.

There is much talk in Columbus about what is going to happen in this off-season. That owes to the fact that there is much work to be done. A permanent coach needs to be named. The draft approaches and there is no longer any margin for error. And of course there is the unsettled, not to mention unsettling, issue of what to do with Rick Nash. The idea that Howson, the same guy who got us into this mess, is now going to suddenly snap out of it and "reshape" this team, is awfully tough for lots of Blue Jackets fans to swallow.

Here we sit after one of the worst GM performances in recent professional sports history, and Howson is still standing. The question is how much longer Blue Jackets fans will stand for Scott Howson.


  1. I have to disagree. Trading for Carter was seen by everyone as a good move, because whatever his attitude, Carter is the all-Star center we've been saying for years we needed. They don't grow on trees, and Howson went out and got one. It is legitimate to wonder if a good start by the team would have gotten Carter going--- it's hard to say, but that decision looks bad only in hindsight. Getting Jack Johnson and a 1st for Carter pretty much makes that one alright. In fact, that may in the long run turn out better. Would you rather have Johnson or Voracek right now?

    Howson can be legitimately criticized for counting too much on Steve Mason, but has any team on God's Green Earth had so many injuries at goalie as the Jackets? When injuries forced us to call the boy from Michigan to play, it's pretty much clear that plan B, C and D were all ruined by injuries. I certainly think he should have brought in a veteran, but it is false to say he did nothing, particularly as NHL stating goalies don't grow on trees.

    I agree he made a mistake hiring Arniel, but only with 20-20 hindsight. At the time he seemed like a good man who had good credentials and a good plan. But we can't know how much sticking with Arniel came from above, or was forced on him from above. I suspect much.

    When I look at Howson, with the exception of Filatov-- and how many of us thought him a steal when we got him Howson's drafts have produced a players, with both John Moore and Johansen showing they belong in the NHL, even if they weren't the second coming of Steve Stamkos. His trades have not all been a success, but by and large they have improved the team. Care to take Russell for Nikitin back? Or bringing in Le Test Tube? Or signing Vinnie Prospal when Huselius went down?

    Could he have done anything at all about the hypocritical suspension of Wiz or the slew of injuries that gutted the blue line?

    We're a much better team then our record. Add average NHL goaltending to the team and we would have been in the hunt. We'll start the season next year with the best blue line this team has ever had, and that's without what the summer will bring.

    I see the team as less mismanaged then snake bit, from which our performance at the draft lottery is only another strike. Granted Napoleon once remarked that he could afford no unlucky generals, the truth is Howson has done far better then you give him credit for.

    Flagger X

  2. Yes, the piece was written from the perspective of hindsight. 'Tis the season for those sorts of things. Hindsight is all that matters at this point in my opinion. The fact is that all three moves backfired for various reasons, including some that were not Howson's fault (as I noted), like injuries for example. You see a GM that is snakebit. I see a GM that gambled on a unproven coach, bought into a sketchy backup plan for Mason and didn't do his homework on Carter.