The firing of Columbus Blue Jacket GM Scott Howson last Tuesday was long overdue. In six seasons of managing the team Howson managed only one winning season and playoff appearance (in 2008/09). After that Howson presided over the Blue Jackets’ descent into NHL nadir; occupying a permanent spot in the Central Division basement.
Some might say that Howson was in a tough spot; trying to manage a team that resides in one of the powerhouse divisions in the NHL (Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, and St. Louis all possess high octane teams) but the argument falls flat when comparing Columbus with Nashville. Nashville was an expansion team too but possessed the proper management, coaching, and talent selection to mold themselves in winners and playoff contenders.
Columbus cannot make an equivalent boast. This is a pro franchise that is overshadowed by the Ohio State University football team.
According to my rating system (before the 2012/13 NHL season began) Scott Howson was the third worst GM in the NHL (behind the Islanders Garth Snow and Edmonton’s Steve Tambellini) both in career value and average season rating. Furthermore by my calculations Scott Howson was the worst NHL GM of the 2010s and was the fourth worst GM of the 21st century (although that may change whether or not Columbus improves or falls further in the standings during this present season).
Based on Columbus’ record when he was fired last Tuesday, Howson had earned an additional eight minus points to the 29 he already possessed. His career value rating had been a -26. If Columbus fails to improve then Howson’s value will diminish to a -34 (which potentially could make him the eighth worst general manager in NHL history!)
The Howson firing should also been seen as a sign of the growing ascendancy of John Davidson, Director of Hockey Operations. Since his arrival last Summer Davidson has slowly but surely made his presence felt in the organization. His selection of Howson’s successor, Jarmo Kekalainen, is unique. Kekalainen is the first European GM in NHL history. Formerly GM of the elite Finnish hockey club Jokerit, Kekalainen managed the team and got superlative performances during his brief stint there.
Kekalainen is not alien to the NHL. He served three years as director of player personnel in Ottawa and then served eight years as Assistant GM and Director Amateur Scouting with the St. Louis Blues—under the watchful eye of John Davidson—before becoming GM of Jokerit. In the past Kekalainen has demonstrated a keen eye for hockey talent. What will be fascinating is whether he will bring any new managerial concepts to the Blue Jackets?
Considering the fact that John Davidson went outside the box to select Jarmo Kekalainen, one wonders if Columbus will use further radical methods and tactics to defibrillate a franchise that has been moribund for the past four years. Considering the hapless history of the Blue Jackets perhaps radical acts like hiring a European GM may be just the right medicine in this case. At the very least John Davidson (and Jarmo Kekalainen) has earned a permanent place in the NHL history books.