directory Light the Lamp - a Columbus Blue Jackets blog: Grading Howson

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Grading Howson

A few days ago I took a look at Doug MacLean's legacy here and now its time to take a look at what Howson has done now that he's approaching his 1 year anniversary with the club.

To jog some memories you can read the Dispatch article about his hiring here.

I thought this paragraph was interesting:

In the era of the salary cap, general managers must define their team's identity and build to flesh it out. They must deepen their minor-league systems with an unjaundiced eye for talent and a feel for a good fit. They must, must, draft well. All of this is necessary because there are no more quick fixes -- you can't just throw money at a problem in July.

It's a big-picture puzzle, and the last pieces are expensive free-agent pieces. Make a mistake or two in the summer, and the cap eventually extracts a penalty. The cost is a laden cap number and a winnowing of victories, a lethal combination.

Lets review some of the key points here:

Team identity
With a big tip of the cap to coach Ken Hitchcock the Jackets did build a team identity for the first time last season. Their identity was a strong team defensive game from the forwards back to the goaltender with offense created by checking. No longer were they the "push-overs" of the NHL and not once did I read a quote from an opposing player that they should "beat a team like Columbus".
Grade - satisfactory

Deepin minor league systems
I'd say with the additions of Wilson, Rome, Ruth and Holden he is defintely strengthening the minor league systems - especially defensively which the organization was in desperate need of. Of the minor league assests he has traded away, Geoff Platt, Steve Goertzen & Curtis Glencross, they have been players in which the organization was deepest in and that was forward.

Rome & Wilson stepped in the last 1/4 of the season and really showed they could compete and help the Jackets. It gave a small sample that Howson and his staff may have a nack for identifying talent. Small moves like this really are what add depth to your organization and can be the difference between the playoffs and the golf course in April as you grind it out through an 82 game season.
Grade - exceed

Must must draft well
As I mentioned in previous post his first draft is looking promising with the likes of Voracek, Legein, Weber and Mayorov. Over on Voracek has one of the highest rankings a prospect can get with a 9.0B. Legein has turned pro and has joined Syracuse after absolutely lighting up the OHL playoffs. Weber has been said to be a prospect on the rise and will play at a top NCAA program next year at Miami of OH. Howson just got back from Russia and is in the process of trying to get Mayorov, who many predicted would be a frist round pick last year, to cross the pond and continue his development in North America.

The verdict is most certainly out as its way to early to judge the impact any of these players will have at the NHL level.
Grade - too early to call

No quick fixes

With his unwillingness to sacrafice imporant draft building blocks like Brassard, Voracek, Russell and Mason he is aware that there aren't quick fixes and the core of your team is built through the draft.

Now that said it does appear that he will be aggresively pursuing trades this summer so this grade could change quickly depending on what kind of assets he parts with.
Grade - satisfactry

Expensive free agent pieces
Howson was pretty much handcuffed last summer by existing bad contracts under the previous regimes so he played is safe and did what he could. On a shoestring budget he signed Jan Hejda, Michael Peca, Kris Beech, Sheldon Brookbank & Jiri Novotny. All low risk high reward moves. I give him an exceeds on Hejda, a satisfactory on Peca and a needs improvement on Beech, Brookbank and Novotny.

As far as adding those expensive free agent pieces thus far he receives an unsatisfactory in that area as he has yet to pull the trigger on any big pieces. That time will quickly come this summer as Howson will have anywhere from 16 to 20 mil to spends on the market.

My biggest worry about Howson is that he may be too conservative and not aggressive enough. He has to remember that this is not his money and this market will have to overpay - there just isn't anyway around it. He just has to make sure he overpays for the right guys.
Grade - needs improvement

Trades / Moves
Howson closed mostly minor trade deals. He moved Geoff Platt for Aaron Rome and Clay Wilson. He dealt Adam Foote for a 1st and conditional 4th. Fedorov was moved for a prospect in Ted Ruth. Curtis Glencross was moved for Dick Tarnstrom. Jody Shelley dealt for a 6th round pick. I give him a satisfactory on the Platt, Shelley and Foot deals. A needs improvement on the Fedorov deal and a unsatisfactory on the Glencross move.
Grade - needs improvement

Probably what was more important were the trades he didn't make the most notable being Brad Richards. It was widely reported the reason he missed out on Richards was because he did not have a NHL ready goaltender to part with or perhaps he just wasn't aggresive enough.
Grade - needs improvement

That said he has made a couple of real big non moves as well - the biggest was not resigning David Vyborny to a 3 year contract at the beggining of the season. Vybes probably would have want something in the 3 mil range - now just imagine the kind of player he can get with that cash this summer. Also its looking more and more wise that he did wait til the offseason to talk contact with Leclaire as he really cooled off the 2nd half and those injuries started to rear their ugly heads.
Grade - exceeds
Overall grade - satisfactory

Trade deadline
Probably for me, looking back, the single biggest dissappointment for in terms of Howson's performance. Its not that I minded him moving Foote or Fedorov - I get that - they were older, wanted to much money and just weren't in the long term plans of the franchise. What really dissapointed me was that he did not bring in at least a new face or two to send some kind of signal to the team that he wasn't giving up on the season being just 5 points out. A small move would have done wonders for team morale I think.
Grade - unsatisfactory

To me Howson has followed the plan I believe he's had from the start. That was to use this past year to evaluate his talent and staff, he along with Hitch rebuild the foundation of this franchise, make some difficult but needed decisions on long time Jackets (Shelley, Vyborny, etc) let the bad contracts expire and set himself up for a big offseason, the offseason, this summer.
Grade - exceeds

Fan relations
The most impressive thing that Howson did this year to me how he handled himself after the "Foote-gate" situation. He didn't run and hide, he faced the media and he didn't throw anybody under the bus. He was a professional who made a tough business decision. He explained it and then moved on. He has also been accessible on Fox Sports Net Ohio and to season ticket holders and of course I'd say he has lived up to his "under promise, over deliver" mantra.
Grade - satisfactory

Here is a list of Howson's major moves since becoming a GM of the Blue Jackets last June:

April 8, 2008 Signed defenseman Grant Clitsome to a three-year contract.

March 29, 2008 Signed defenseman Nick Holden to a three-year contract; assigned left wing Alexandre Picard to Syracuse of the American Hockey League.

March 7, 2008 Re-signed center Andrew Murray to a three-year contract.

February 28, 2008 Acquired right wing Nate DiCasmirro from the Phoenix Coyotes for right wing Steve Goertzen and assigned him to Syracuse of the American Hockey League.

February 26, 2008 Acquired Ted Ruth from Washington for defensemen Sergei Fedorov

February 26, 2008 Acquired conditional draft picks from Colorado for defensemen Adam Foote

February 1, 2008 Acquired defenseman Dick Tarnstrom from the Edmonton Oilers for left wing Curtis Glencross.

January 22, 2008 Acquired 2009 6th round pick from San Jose for froward Jody Shelley

January 22, 2008 Acquired defensemen Darcy Campbell and forward Philippe Dupuis from Colorado Avalanche for forward Mark Rycroft

January 2, 2008 Assigned center Gilbert Brule to Syracuse of the American Hockey League.

November 15, 2007 Acquired defensemen Aaron Rome and Clay Wilson from the Anaheim Ducks for center Geoff Platt and assigned them to Syracuse of the American Hockey League.

November 7, 2007 Signed right wing Stefan Legein to a three-year contract.

October 4, 2007 Reached an affiliation agreement with the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL.

September 22, 2007 Promoted Don Boyd to director of hockey operations and player personnel, Chris MacFarland to assistant to the general manager, John Williams to assistant director of amateur scouting and Kjell Larsson to European scout; named Bryan Stewart video scout.

September 13, 2007 Suspended center Alexander Svitov.

August 23, 2007 Signed center Michael Peca, who had been with the Toronto Maple Leafs, to a one-year contract.

August 8, 2007 Signed center Kris Beech, who had been with the Washington Capitals, to a one-year contract.

August 3, 2007 Signed right wing Jakub Voracek, their first-round pick in 2007, to a three-year contract.

July 27, 2007 Named Tyler Wright development coach.

July 11, 2007 Signed center Derek MacKenzie, who had been with the Atlanta Thrashers, and defenseman Dan Smith, who had been with the Detroit Red Wings, to one-year contracts.

July 10, 2007 Re-signed left wings Curtis Glencross and Joakim Lindstrom and center Andrew Murray to one-year contracts and right wing Steve Goertzen to a two-year contract.

July 5, 2007 Signed defenseman Jan Hejda, who had been with the Edmonton Oilers, to a one-year contract.

July 4, 2007 Signed center Jiri Novotny, who had been with the Washington Capitals, to a two-year contract.

July 2, 2007 Re-signed defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and center Alexander Svitov to two-year contracts.

July 2, 2007 Agreed to terms with defenseman Sheldon Brookbank, who had been with the Nashville Predators, on a one-year contract.

June 29, 2007 Named Claude Noel assistant coach; extended the contracts of assistant coaches Gary Agnew, Gord Murphy and Clint Malarchuk.

June 16, 2007 Named Scott Howson general manager and agreed to terms with him on a multi-year contract.


Its been an interesting year for Howson. Big picture he has pretty much done what I expected thus far. He made some modest moves, some of which payed big dividends (Hejda) some of which didn't quite pan out (Tarnstrom) but overall I think he's met his big objectives which were to rebuild the foundation, have the most successfull season to date, evaluate organizational talent, rid himself of bad contracts, strengthen organizational depth, let his coach coach and set himself up for a big offseason.

As a fan it wasn't the most exciting season but one that was neccessary. Even though the last 10 games were a huge dissapointment but the organization made a big step forward.

Howson has been pretty conservative to this point however that time if over. With the biggest and most important offseason by far in franchise history upon us Howson is driving the bus and for the sake of the viability of pro hockey in this market, he has to deliver for both the short and long term.

Discuss - how would you grade Howson? Now that the season is over and you've had time to reflect did he accomplish what you expected?



Anonymous said...

Your attention to detail on this stuff is truly unparalleled. Great job.

Pub said...

With the crap he was left to clean up ...I think he deserves an A. Not easy to dig through 7 years of dog shit.

-AB- said...

Outstanding overview, though I think you were a little too critical on the trade deadline / big move grades as I would rather see him wait to the off season (bye Foote & Feds & your 10 mill) as opposed to forcing a headline breaking deal to appease the fan base that would likely have been to the determent of the organ-EYE-zation in the long run.

Also, I don’t think you gave him enough credit for one of his greatest attributes: his working relationship with Hitch and ability (so far) to adapt his management/personnel decision to best facilitate Hitch’s system.

Neal said...

Very nice write up...

I give him a pass last off-season. He didn't have the resources to make a big splash.

It's hard to grade his 1st draft either. As in most sports, you really can't grade a draft until a couple years have passed, but the initial reports are very positive.

In-season trades...I agree with your evaluation of each individual trade. But, personally, I'm glad he didn't give up an asset (prospect) just to have a better shot at getting waxed by Detroit in the 1st round. Richards would have been a fine addition for Brule, Tolle and Fritshe, though.

Overall - Too early too call
This is a big off-season (obviously), but with the limited FA pool, and several other teams w/ money to spend (and similar needs), I'm tempering my expectations.