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.