Thursday, June 14, 2007

Columbus Hires GM Scott Howson

The best way for an owner to have a winning hockey team is to hire a top general manager and then leave him alone and let him build you a winning team. The problem is that all too often, the people who own hockey teams don't know any potential top general managers. This has been the case in Columbus where owner John McConnell hired Doug MacLean to be the Columbus GM and left him alone to run the team when they expanded in 2000 and was not fired until this year. MacLean talked like he was a good hockey man. He had a lot of respect from his coaching success (note that coaching is not being a general manager) including leading the Florida Panthers to the 1995 Stanley Cup finals. The problem was he was a bad general manager. He is a big part of the reason that Columbus has never qualified for the playoffs.

Columbus has now decided upon Scott Howson as their new general manager. Is he a good pick? We haven't seen him in action enough to know right now, but I am sceptical.

Howson certainly has a good resume. He had a short NHL career that lasted 18 games over two seasons with the New York Islanders. After retiring, he graduated from York University with a law degree. He was hired to run the Edmonton Oilers farm clubs in 1994 and continued in that job until 2000. In 2001, he became the Oilers assistant GM. He talks like he knows his hockey and has a good background, but what is lacking is success. In his time as Oilers assistant GM, the Oilers only qualified for playoffs twice (one was their improbable 2006 run to the finals - where the team also almost missed the playoffs). He is said to be a salary cap specialist, which I interpret to mean it was his idea for the Oilers to load up on contracts at the 2006 trade deadline so that their payroll for the playoffs may exceed the salary cap, but is legal due to savings from the earlier parts of the season. In principle, that may not be a bad plan and it worked for the Oilers that year, but it certainly didn't pay off for teams making big trade deadline acquisitions this year.

If I were to hire an assistant GM to be my GM I would want it to be somebody from a first class organization who has worked successfully under one of the most respected GMs in the league. The Edmonton Oilers are currently a team in shambles that look like a longshot to qualify for the playoffs next year. Their general manager Kevin Lowe is definitely a member of the old boys network in the NHL, but there is a lot of reason to doubt his status as a top GM. In fact some Edmonton Oiler bloggers think Kevin Lowe may not be back when his contract runs out next season.

Columbus gets a new start under Scott Howson, but is he really the best choice available?

Here is the TSN story on Howson's hiring.

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