To the surprise of practically no one, the Columbus Blue Jackets are now in the market for a new general manager.
Scott Howson was let go Tuesday, one night after the Jackets hung a half-dozen on San Jose at home. Columbus head honcho John Davidson released a statement to announce the move, saying "Scott Howson is a caring man who gave everything he had to the Columbus Blue Jackets over the past six years. This was a difficult decision but one that I thought was in the best interest of moving our hockey club forward. I have enjoyed working with Scott and want to thank him for his service."
The Blue Jackets floundered badly last season, finishing with the league's worst record. Howson oversaw the club's first (and, so far, only) Stanley Cup Playoff appearance, but also has been responsible for some poor trades and free-agent moves.
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Chief among the trades that didn't work out was one in 2011 with Philadelphia for forward Jeff Carter. The Blue Jackets didn't get much of anything out of Carter, who clearly didn't want to be there, and Howson was probably lucky to get defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick from the Kings in a trade for Carter. 2010 first-round pick Ryan Johansen has struggled in the NHL so far, only further hampering the team's rebuilding by keeping it from being stronger in the middle.
Howson has struggled to speed up the franchise's rebuilding process. He did add two extra first-round picks in the 2013 draft, which is looking to be a deep group of prospects. But this year's team is 4-7-2 after 13 games, and there isn't much reason to think it has a chance to contend for a playoff spot.
Davidson took over during the lockout in October, and he smartly didn't make any snap judgments about Howson, instead taking his time to evaluate the operation and decide what he thought would be best. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that Davidson eventually ended Howson's tenure.
For starters, the team has struggled pretty consistently. Even when it made the playoffs, Columbus wasn't exactly blessed with loads of talent around Nash. Moves designed to get Nash some support simply didn't work, to the point where Nash saw enough and decided he wanted out.
That was a whole different situation. At the time, I wrote that Howson was basically writing his own ticket out of Columbus. Had no idea it would take nearly a full year before anything happened. Frankly, I thought it was a huge mistake for the organization to let him trade Nash after he handled the situation so poorly to start with. Maybe things would have been different had Davidson taken over sooner, but we'll never know.
The return Howson got for Nash included Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, who are top-six forwards for the Blue Jackets, but it's out of necessity. Johansen hasn't developed yet (he's only 20, so there is time), and Columbus simply isn't deep at center. Also in the trade was young defenseman Tim Erixon, a 2009 first-round pick who has yet to score an NHL goal. Frankly, there wasn't enough here to call it a good deal for Columbus, though at least Howson was able to get some players with upside.
Davidson took on the challenge of making this franchise relevant, really for the first time since it came into the league. Part of that challenge is now finding the next general manager to start putting this thing together. After a few months on the job, Davidson -- probably wisely -- decided it was time to move on from Howson. If the fans in Columbus can hold on, there's plenty of reason to have faith in the new boss, largely because of the track record of the gentleman (Davidson) making the hire.