By Evan Meyer
When he took over as Director of Hockey Operations for the Columbus Blue Jackets this past summer, John Davidson said he would evaluate both the team and the front office.
With the team off to a 4-7-2 start at the bottom of the Western Conference in this abbreviated 48-game season, Davidson made his first move Tuesday night by relieving general manager Scott Howson of his responsibilities.
In a statement issued by the team, Davidson said, “I wanted to make a change in that area (the general manager’s position). I have been thinking more and more about it in recent days. It is a hard thing, but something I felt in my gut I needed to do.”
A news conference has been scheduled for Wednesday morning at Nationwide Arena, as Davidson has told multiple outlets that he will not assume the role. Speculation is that he has already lined up Howson’s replacement. One name that is being thrown around, according to sources, is Los Angeles Kings assistant GM Ron Hextall. However, nothing has been announced.
Howson, 51, came to the Blue Jackets from the Edmonton Oilers where he was Assistant General Manager and spent five seasons under current Kevin Lowe. In 2006, the Oilers made it to game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals only to lose to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Before coming to the big club, he was the GM of their team in the American Hockey League when it was based in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (Cape Breton Oilers) and in Hamilton, Ontario (Hamilton Bulldogs).
He was the second GM in Blue Jackets’ franchise history, as he amassed a 173-190-59 record and led the Jackets to their only Stanley Cup Playoff appearance in 2009; losing in four straight games to Detroit.
“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 I thought was in the best interest of the hockey club moving forward,” Davidson said.
So, what exactly led to Howson’s departure from the Blue Jackets?
Many speculate his acquisition of D James Wisnewski in free agency, which did not pan out due to injuries. His trades are another reason. Starting last year, as the team acquired F Jeff Carter from Philadelphia, but he was not a good fit and was sent to Los Angeles at the trade deadline for D Jack Johnson. Carter then became an integral part of the Kings winning the Stanley Cup.
Many observers believed Howson would have been dismissed after the dismal start to last season, the worst by an NHL club in two decades. Yet he survived
Then this past summer he sent the team’s only superstar, F Rick Nash, to the New York Rangers. In defense of Howson, the players he got back from New York F Artem Anisimov, F Brandon Dubinsky and D Tim Erixon have played better in recent games. However, the players received were not what the Jackets wanted. When the trade talk of Nash began late last season, Columbus had their eyes on F Chris Kreider out of Boston College, but the Rangers absolutely would not part with the youngster
When Davidson was hired after leaving the Blues, he was given the mandate to make Columbus relevant in the National Hockey League. Over the past six seasons they have pretty much been at the bottom of the league and the dismissal of Howson, Davidson believes, is the start of a turnaround for the franchise.
It will be interesting who he selects as the third GM in the club’s 12-year history.