Scott Howson was hired as the general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets on June 15, 2007. He held the job until being unceremoniously fired on February 12, 2013. He came to the job with experience. He had served as GM for the AHL affiliates of the Edmonton Oilers for several years and as assistant GM for the parent club from 2002 until 2007.
He returned to the Oilers organization after his tenure with Columbus, serving as a scout, Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations and Director, Player Development. He was recently elected President and CEO of the AHL.
As an NHL player, Howson played 18 games with the New York Islanders (1984-86), scoring 5 goals and adding 3 assists. He also played 110 games in the AHL, as well as 71 games in the now-defunct International Hockey League (IHL) and 146 for the Indianapolis Checkers in the lower-tier Central Hockey League (CHL).
Howson took over as GM from Doug MacLean, who was fired in April 2007. (Former assistant GM Jim Clark served as interim GM for 8 weeks during the GM search. The only roster move during that period was sending Adam McQuaid to Boston for a 5th-round draft pick.) MacLean helped build the team from the ground up. Of course, in this case, the word “up” isn’t very high.
Under MacLean, the team’s best record was in 2005-06 at 35-43-4 for 74 points in an 82-game season. That season the team finished 3rd in the Central Division and missed the playoffs by 21 points. Not a very “high” point for an NHL club.
The Blue Jackets’ Results Under Howson
The Blue Jackets record during Howson’s tenure as GM was 174-190-59. That’s a .481 winning percentage. By season:
- 2007-08: 34 wins – 36 losses – 12 overtime losses (OTL): 80 points in the standing. Missed playoffs by 14 points.
- 2008-09: 41-31-10: 92 points. Made playoffs by 3 points, 2nd wild card.
- 2009-10: 32-35-15: 79 points. Missed playoff by 21 points, last in the Central Division, 2nd last in the Western Conference.
- 2010-11: 34-35-13: 81 points. Missed playoffs by 16 points.
- 2011-12: 29-46-7: 65 points. Missed playoffs by 30 points.
- 2012-13*:24-17-7: 55 points. Missed playoffs by 2 points.
*The season in which Howson was fired. It was a shortened 48-game season.
Since then, the Blue Jackets team that Howson helped to create, has had mixed results:
- 2013-14: 43-32-7: 93 points. Made playoffs by 3 points, 1st wild card. (Team now in Eastern Conference.)
- 2014-15: 42-35-5: 89 points. Missed playoffs by 9 points.
- 2015-16: 34-40-8: 76 points. Missed playoffs by 17 points, last in Metropolitan Division, 2nd last in Eastern Conference.
- 2016-17: 50-24-8: 108 points. Made playoffs by 14 points, 3rd in Metropolitan Division.
- 2017-18: 45-30-7: 97 points. Made playoffs by 1 point, 1st wild card.
- 2018-19: 47-31-4: 98 points. Made playoffs by 2 points, 2nd wild card.
- 2019-20*: 33-22-15: 81 points. Playoffs not yet determined, on the bubble.
*At the time of The Pause caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Looking at the seasons from the start of Howson’s reign as GM to last season, the team made or missed the playoffs by just a few points 5 times. Only once had the team made the playoffs and not been in a wild card spot (2016-17). That was also the only time during this part of the team’s history that it made the playoffs by more than 3 points. In contrast, the team missed the playoffs by at least 9 points 6 times in those 12 seasons. Twelve seasons, 5 playoff spots, 7 playoff misses.
The Blue Jackets had made the playoffs 3 straight years heading into 2019-20. However, how much of this trend is Howson’s work? Nine players added to the Blue Jackets with Howson as GM were on all 3 of those playoff teams: Sergei Bobrovsky, Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson, David Savard, Boone Jenner, Ryan Murray, Jones Korpisalo, Josh Anderson, and Mark Letestu. Matt Calvert played on 2 of the 3 playoff teams.
A couple of players added to the team by Howson were traded for important contributing parts, notably Ryan Johansen (traded to add Norris-worthy defenseman Seth Jones) and Brandon Saad (traded for Artemi Panarin, who played on 2 of the 3 playoff teams). Jeff Carter was traded for Jack Johnson, who was on 2 of the 3 playoff teams. However, I should note that the Carter/Johnson escapade could be considered a net deficit since Jake Voracek and the draft pick that became Sean Couturier were lost in the process.
The Howson Era Drafts
Howson joined the Blue Jackets organization as general manager a week before his first draft in 2007. Folks “at the table” are generally close to the vest when it comes to last-minute decisions and the influence of the GM on the selection presented by the scouts. Here’s a summary of the youngsters drafted by Columbus with Howson as GM.
2007 Draft: The highlight of the draft was, as is often the case, the 1st-round pick, Voracek (915 NHL games/695 points). Of the other 5 players selected, only Maksim Mayorov played more than 20 games.
Totals for all players drafted in 2007: 948 games/698 points.
2008 Draft: 1st-rounder Nikita Filatov never met expectations, but this draft provided a few gems in later rounds. In the 5th round, Columbus selected Calvert, who played 548 games, scoring 200 points, most of them with the Blue Jackets., However, the 6th round selection of Atkinson (571 games/368 points) continues to bear fruit for the club.
Totals for all players drafted in 2008: 1,372 games/622 points.
2009 Draft: John Moore, picked in the 1st round, #21 overall, has had a productive career. Unfortunately, most of it was with teams other than the Blue Jackets. Another defenseman, Savard, was selected 3 rounds later and continues to perform well for Columbus.
Totals for all players drafted in 2009: 1,089 games/275 points.
2010 Draft: 1st-rounder Johansen was traded to the Nashville Predators for Norris-candidate Jones. The 8 other picks in 2010 produced little for the Blue Jackets.
Totals for all players drafted in 2010: 928 games/482 points.
2011 Draft: Columbus didn’t have a 1st-round pick, but 2nd-rounder Jenner has been a heart-and-soul Blue Jacket.
Totals for all players drafted in 2011: 922 games/305 points.
2012 Draft: This was one of the most productive drafts in team history. Murray (1st round), Korpisalo (3rd round), and Anderson (4th round) are key pieces for today’s Blue Jackets.
Totals for all players drafted in 2012: 746 games/226 points.
In total, all of the players drafted from 2007 through 2012 have played (to date) 6,005 NHL games, producing 2,608 points. However, when you count only the numbers accumulated with Columbus, the picture changes significantly: 3,883 games and 1,561 points (including 148 games and 1 point from goaltenders).
Only 64.7% of the games played by players drafted by Columbus 2007 through 2012 were played for the Blue Jackets. Only 59.9% of the points scored by those players were scored for the Blue Jackets.
Among the players who had been with Columbus throughout their NHL careers and are still active are Murray, Korpisalo, Anderson, Jenner, Savard, and Atkinson. Former Blue Jackets Calvert and Dalton Prout played the majority of their careers (and scored the majority of their points) with Columbus.
Howson’s trades weren’t all horrible – some very competent players became Blue Jackets. Most of those trades were reasonably modest in impact. The major trades, however, produce ripples to this day. By the numbers, Howson and his crew executed 59 trades involving 85 players, 49 draft picks (two of which were never exercised), and three times for the rights to negotiate with a specific player. During this period in Blue Jackets history, 27 free agents were signed, while 29 free agents left the team.
Among the notable players who appeared in a Blue Jackets jersey with Howson at the helm were future Hall of Fame member Sergei Fedorov, Marian Gaborik, Vinny Prospal, two-time Vezina winner Bobrovsky, and defensemen Adam Foote, Johnson and Kris Russell.
Related: Catching Up With Sergei Fedorov
Long-time Blue Jackets fans will recognize a number of other names that departed under Howson. The list includes Jody Shelley, R.J. Umberger, Jason Chimera, Manny Malhotra, Pascal Leclaire, Antoine Vermette, Letestu, Jan Hejda, and the original Blue Jacket, Rostislav “Rusty” Klesla.
Without a doubt, however, it was the trade of Rick Nash to the New York Rangers that was the most significant event with Howson as GM (more on that in a bit). Prior to the Nash trade, perhaps the most infamous Howson trades involved Carter.
In June 2011, Howson received Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Voracek, a 1st-round draft pick that became Couturier, and an additional pick. Less than 8 months later (including 39 games and 25 points), Carter was dealt to the L.A. Kings for defenseman Johnson and a 1st-round pick (used to select Marko Dano).
Another set of trade-related events that helped define the Howson era in Columbus was Trade Deadline Day 2010, on which Howson traded away Raffi Torres, Fredrik Modin, and former 1st-round pick Alexandre Pickard for players and draft picks that combine for exactly zero goals and zero assists for the Blue Jackets.
Including Nash, Howson traded away 8 of the Blue Jackets’ initial 9 1st-round draft picks. In 2008, after trading away former 1st-rounders Gilbert Brule and Nikolai Zherdev, Howson sent a letter to season ticket holders, highlighting the addition of several players. You can read the letter here.
July 20, 2012 may be a day that lives in infamy for Blue Jackets fans. In what would be his final trade as GM of the Blue Jackets, Howson sent former 1st-round pick, team captain, and face of the franchise Nash to the Rangers along with Steve Delisle and a conditional third-round pick. In return, Columbus received Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon, and a 2013 first-round pick, used to select Kerby Rychel.
The press was not impressed by the Nash trade (nor was the public). Aaron Portzline, then of The Columbus Dispatch, spoke to ESPN’s Barry Melrose about the deal. Melrose said “I don’t think it’s enough” when asked to comment on what the Blue Jackets received in return for Nash. (rom ‘Now Up for Bidding: Nash,’ Columbus Post-Dispatch, 02/15/2012)
The negotiations, which started before that year’s trade deadline, may have stalled over the inclusion of a young Ranger named Chris Kreider. Kreider has since blossomed into a power forward worth, according to his new contract with the Rangers, $6.5 million for each of the next seven years.
Interestingly, it was former GM MacLean who arranged to pick Nash at #1 in the 2002 draft. Originally, Columbus was slated to pick 3rd, behind the Florida Panthers and the Atlanta Thrashers. Florida wanted speedy defender Jay Bouwmeester (who was rated as the top North American skater pre-draft). Atlanta wanted goaltender Kari Lehtonen.
There was no reason to swap picks with Florida – each of the top 3 drafters would have gotten the player they wanted without the trade. But the draft was being held in Toronto, not far from Nash’s hometown of Brampton, Ontario. So the picks were flipped, straight up 3rd pick for 1st pick, and the hometown boy got to be the #1 player selected in the 2002 draft.
All-Star Selections and Individual Awards
A couple of players drafted by Howson and his staff represented the Blue Jackets in the NHL All-Star Game. In 2012, Johansen was named to the All-Star Rookie Team and also played in the next All-Star Game (which wasn’t held until 2015). Atkinson made the All-Star roster in 2017 and 2019. Korpisalo was selected for the game in 2020 but had to withdraw due to injury.
Other players acquired by Columbus during the Howson years named to All-Star rosters included Bobrovsky (2015-injured and did not play, 2017), Nick Foligno (2015), Saad (2016), and Jones (2017, 2018-injured and did not play, replaced by Zach Werenski, 2019, 2020).
Individual awards won by Blue Jackets who joined the team during the Howson era include Bobrovsky’s two Vezina awards (2013, 2017) and Foligno’s 2017 Mark Messier Leadership Award and King Clancy Memorial Trophy. (Foligno is the only player to win both awards in the same year.)
Howson’s PR Problem
Regardless of Howson’s lingering fingerprints on the Blue Jackets, his tenure as GM in Columbus will likely forever be defined by the Nash trade. Not just about the players and pick received in return for the All-Star power forward, but for the hoopla that surrounded the deal.
Word leaked in Feb. 2012 that a deal was being worked out with the Rangers. Howson announced that Nash had asked to be traded. But the word on the street at the time was different. Did Nash ask to be traded, or did he unselfishly ask what was best for the team? Did he want out, or did he say that he’d waive his no-trade clause if it would help the team in its rebuild? Or was it some of each?
Here’s what Nash told to Dave Lozo, reporting for NHL.com:
Initially, I went in with Scott Howson and was trying to get a game plan on what was going on with Columbus and I was told there was going to be a rebuild. I’ve been here for nine years now and figured I could be the main piece of a rebuild for them in that case. If the circumstance was right, I’d waive my no-trade clause and help them rebuild and help my career carry on.Rick Nash, July 2012
There are obviously no hard feelings on Nash’s part. After retiring at the age of 34 due to concussion-related issues, he rejoined the team as a special assistant to the GM in 2019. In fact, he never actually left Columbus – even after he was traded to New York (and later to the Boston Bruins), he kept his home in the Ohio city’s suburb of Dublin, which is his wife Jessica’s hometown.
Scott Howson’s Legacy in Columbus
Of all the players acquired by Howson and his staff, either by draft or trade, 9 remain on the Blue Jackets 2020 roster. They include Savard, Atkinson, Dubinsky, Foligno, Murray, Jenner, Anderson, Korpisalo, and Jones. All-in-all, a pretty good core around which to build.
Looking at a list that includes those 9 players, I think we might say that Howson had not only an impact on the roster of the current team, but also – and perhaps more importantly – on the personality of the team.