WHAT HAS SCOTT HOWSON LEARNED?

Scott Howson spent five years and eight months as General Manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets, before being fired in February, and on Monday he officially returned to the Oilers  as VP of Hockey Operations.

What has he learned since leaving Edmonton? What will he bring to the organization?

Howson came on my radio show on Monday to discuss his role with the Oilers, what he’s learrned since he left and what he plans to do to help the Oilers return to the playoffs.

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Gregor: You left Edmonton six years ago. What have you learned in the last six years that could help you contribute even more this time around?

Howson: I think it’s going to be a different role this time. Anytime you’ve had the privilege of being a General Manager in the league and we went through some tough times in Columbus, just like we’ve seen here in Edmonton, you learn a lot. You’ve gotta plough through that, you’ve gotta be strong, and you’ve gotta persevere. I’ve learned quite a bit there and I’m certainly anxious and excited to bring what I’ve learned and also to keep growing here and help move this team in the right direction.

Gregor: What did you learn specifically?

Howson: I think nothing is easy in this business, we all know that. Nothing is easy in any business, but certainly there are not enough players around. Every team will tell you the same thing, that there are not enough good players around. You’ve got to be assertive, you’ve got to be aggressive and you’ve got to be direct. I think those are all things that I’ve learned. You’ve got to build an organization that has trust, honesty, and directness. Those are the types of things that I think I’ve learned in Columbus.

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Gregor: Craig MacTavish said that it’s time for bold moves. Is it fair to say that when a conversation like that comes up, you really have to do background checks and understand that the player you’re bringing in, not only is a good player on the ice, but has to be somebody that will fit into the locker room? How much background research did you do when you pulled off that Rick Nash trade?

Howson: We did a lot. You talk to a lot of people. There’s so much movement in this game. There’s always somebody that somebody knows that you can talk to. It’s not just talking to one person; it’s talking to three, four, five people and getting as many insights as you can into people. Having said that, people react differently to different situations.

You’ve just got to do your homework. You’ve got to bring in all the knowledge and information you can and then you make the best decision possible at the time. Nobody’s always right in this business. It’s a tough business. You’ve got to be right, we’re paid to be right and we’re going to make sure that we’re certainly more right than wrong.

OUTSIDER VIEWPOINT

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Gregor: You have watched the Oilers as an opponent for the last few years. Give me your assessment of this team. Let’s start with what you think are the keys, the main focal points, moving forward that you like about the make-up of the Oilers right now.

Howson: Well, we have the most difficult thing to acquire; we have the top end, young talent. That’s the hardest thing to acquire. This game is coached so well and people defend so well, the goaltending keeps getting better, it’s hard to score, it’s hard to create offence, it’s hard to generate chances. When you’re talking about players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, and we certainly hope Nail Yakupov, you’re talking about high-end skill that all teams need and require to win. I think it starts there. I don’t think there’s any doubt we have to bring in more competitive people and keep raising the competitive level. This league is so hard to win in, it takes special people to do it and it takes competitive people to do it.

Gregor: Let’s go into that a little bit more- “competitive people.” What’s your definition of a competitive player in the NHL?

Howson: A player who is strong on the puck, wants the puck, will do everything he can to keep the puck, and really, really cares about winning.

Gregor: How do you assess that?

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Howson: You can see it on the ice. You can see it in body language, you can see, certainly, hardness on the puck and strong on the puck. You can see by doing your scouting and watching video.

Gregor: When you were scouting the last few months or few weeks, what were you looking at when you were scouting?

Howson: I did a lot of college scouting. I would say I spent the bulk of my time watching college hockey. This was a very busy time for college hockey. You had the league championship tournaments, you had the regional tournaments and then you had the frozen four last weekend in Pittsburgh, which I was at. There were a number of free agents we were interested in. Some of them we were in on the bidding, we didn’t have any success this time, but we saw some players that we liked and we went after them.

BLUELINE….


Gregor: You talked about the competitive players that you need. What about building the blue line for the Edmonton Oilers? Building the back end might be the hardest thing to do, other than acquiring that top- end skill level. Discuss the blue line and the type of players you think you need on the back end.

Howson: Ya, I think you’re right. No team is going to win in this league without a strong defence. I think that’s an area where we have to improve and I think we’re going to improve. If you look at the players, I can tell you as an outsider, if you look at the players coming up the pipeline in the Oilers’ system, they are coming.

It’s such a hard position to play; you can’t expect it to be much immediate help. But when you’re talking Oscar Klefbom, he’s a world class player for his age level. Martin Gernat, David Musil, there’s a lot of good, young defencemen that are coming. We’ve just got to make sure that we’re patient with them, we put them in places where they succeed, we don’t rush them, and when they’re ready they’ll be part of a very good Oilers’ defence.

Gregor: It is the one position you don’t want to rush. Klefbom is maybe the only one who has a chance to play next year. Martin Marincin, Musil, Gernat, those guys are two, three years down the road. You look at what Pittsburgh did, moving a guy like Joe Morrow for an established NHL player. Do you see moving one of them because you can’t win with all kids; you need to have some proven guys in the mix?

Howson: Ya, when you have depth at a position like this, you can consider that. Look, we’re going to consider all opportunities that come our way. We’re not going to hang up the phone on anything. We’re going to deliberate and debate and talk about it. But if you do have a position of strength, it’s an area where you can deplete that a little bit to strengthen another area where you’re in a position of weakness.

Gregor: Can you define exactly what your role will be with the Oilers moving forward?

Howson: I think it’s going to evolve here, certainly in the initial discussion. I’m going to bring what I learned in Columbus and we’re going to implement some of the structure I had there, some of the systems and policies we’re going to talk about. Then it’s just helping Craig in whatever area I can. I’m sure it will involve a little bit in the amateur side. It will certainly involve the development side; it will involve the college free agent side, and the pro side. So it’s not going to be just one thing, it’s going to be a lot of things. I can’t wait to get started.

Gregor: How do you feel you’ll be different as a regime this time, compared to beforehand? What has changed about the game and what have you guys learned collectively that can make you better?

Howson: Well I think we all have different experiences than we had six or seven years ago. I’ve been a General Manager in the league; I think that’s an invaluable experience to any organization. You look at what Craig MacTavish has done; he’s got his MBA, which is quite a feat. I think it expands your horizons when do something outside of the hockey world.

We become very narrow-minded in this game because all we think about his hockey. So he had the opportunity to go and expand himself. He’s gone to another organization. That’s another advantage that we both have. We have both been in another organization and seen how things operate outside of Edmonton. For me, this is where I grew up. This is all I knew. Now I know a little bit more. I think we’re broader. Obviously as you gain experience, hopefully you learn and you get smarter.

WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED…

Gregor: Can you go into anything specific that you learned from the Columbus organization, that you felt you lacked the first time here, that you’d like to bring in to the Edmonton organization now?

Howson: I’d prefer not to get into anything specific. I’d really have to think about the question. This business is about people and about trust and about good people, smart people, and people that have good eye. Craig said it well, I think in the press conference, the most important thing we can do is find players and bring players here. That’s our job and that’s what we’re going to do.

Gregor: When you looked back on your time in Columbus, was there one thing you looked back and said, ‘I’ve really learned from this and in the future I wouldn’t do it again.’?

Howson: I think you have to be careful with free agency. I think it’s a dangerous animal. I’m not saying it should be ignored, because I really think you can add to your team in it. When you get to the free agent market, you overpay and you overpay in terms of salary, and you usually overpay in terms of term. Those things can set your team back.

Gregor: Do you think it’s better off then, trying to negotiate a trade with another GM? Even though it may be harder, you may not end up with an albatross of a contract as far as length and term?

Howson: Ya, I think at times that’s certainly an option. It should get a look if we’re going to explore everything. There’s a time for free agency and there’s a time to pull back and be patient. We’re going to deal with a market this summer where the cap comes down, so there’s going to probably be less money available in the system. It might be a time this year where it’s more of a buyer’s market, we’ll see. I know the trend certainly has been, and it’s trending this way this year, a lot of the good players get signed. We’ll see what the compliance buyout market brings and then we’ll go from there.

Gregor: Did anything change in your philosophy that you had when you went there, but now that you’ve come back you look at differently?

Howson: I think you realize how hard it is when you sit in the GM chair and how difficult this is. It looks easy from the outside at times. It is a difficult business, it’s a difficult position. It’s a wonderful position and as I said many times before, it’s a privilege to be a General Manager in this league. What have I learned? I’ve learned that you’ve got to be assertive, you’ve got to be aggressive, and that you’ve got to make sure you do your homework.

WRAP UP

It will be interesting to see how Howson and MacTavish re-shape this organization. Klefbom is clearly their best prospect not in the NHL, and every scout that I’ve talked to recently believes he’ll play in the NHL next year. The key will be bringing in at least one proven veteran D-man to augment this D corps. That has to be priority number one.

The "free agency can be a dangerous animal," comment caught my attention. I’m guessing he is referring to James Wisniewski. I doubt the Oilers shy away from free agency, but they will be more diligent in deciding on how to sign. They can’t afford another summer like 2011.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR

 



  • Spydyr

    The same regime in charge as the fist fail.This summer will show if anything has changed. Should not take long at all. The fixes and deficiencies are too easy to spot.

  • geoilersgist

    I’m scared and excited for this summer. I can’t wait to see what these guys do to right this ship.

    Edit: Also what about maybe Zidlicky from the Devils? He only makes 4mil/year and scores at roughly .5ppg over his entire career. Could he replace Whitney?

    • Jason Gregor

      Streit looks very happy in NY these days. He gave a big speech on the mic to the Ilse faithful with a big applause after. Things are good in the land of Wang. With everyone going to Brooklyn and the team doing well, I don’t look like hes going anywhere.

      • Citizen David

        That’s good to know. He’s still going to hit the UFA market though and I’d wager he’ll hear a few deals in order to know what to ask for from the Isles. Are the Isles willing to do the overpay?

        It sounds more and more that defensemen are going to be rather hard to come by.

        I thought the not enough talent to go around line was interesting. I often wonder if the league had two fewer teams if every team would be a little more competitive, and superstar contracts wouldn’t be as lucrative.

        Howsen built a pretty good looking defence in Columbus, and Murray isn’t even up there yet. With any luck, the Oilers can accomplish the same thing here.

  • Spydyr

    Scott Howson, From the frying pan into the fire or should it be from the fire into the frying pan.

    Why would anyone want to do this to themselves is beyond me. Running from one lynch mob right into the next. It would be nice to have someone in management who actually HAS moved at team over the next big hurdle. Well, we live in interesting times.

  • Citizen David

    Coming from the probably reading to much into it side, does his including Gagner in their group of top end young talent mean they probably won’t trade him?

    • I honestly don’t see how they keep him?

      If the Oilers are talking any kind of trade then his name has to be on the top of the list as the most attractive asset outside the kids.

      Who else has value on the Oilers?

      I can think of four. Klefbom – Paajarvi – Hemsky – Gagner, possibly Petry.

      • Citizen David

        I agree. How can off loading the Belanger’s of the team and trading Hemsky be considered bold. Something has to give. I’m a huge fan of both but one of Eberle or Gagner has to be traded to improve defense. (I’m not saying Gagner is as good as Eberle but that would mean Ebs would bring more)

        What I’m guessing the Oilers do is keep both and trade Hemsky and Paajarvi.

  • Citizen David

    Am I the only one worried about how vague and ambiguous he is when he describes what his role actually is?

    I’m really hoping MacT got it in writing that he has absolute control as GM. I doubt he did though.

    It’s been said time and time again the past few springs that “this summer is critical to the re-build” or something of that ilk. But each summer, it is stuff like re-signing Hordichuk and Petrell, save for the miracle of J Shultz falling from the sky last summer, but that will not happen again.

    Until the words are put into meaningful action with conviction, there isn’t much to make even the most die-hard fan excited…..but there is a lot to loath and fear.

  • G Money

    Gregor, how is it that every scout says Klefbom is ready when he has missed most of the last two years with injuries? Are we going to be sending another propect into the deepend. Why would we not look at Marincin who has been surprisingly solid in OKC before Klefbom at the start of next year.

    • Jason Gregor

      Injuries are a concern, but his play before he was injured really impressed the scouts.

      Right now Klefbom is much stronger than Marincin. Marincin has gotten better, but I believe he needs another year of seasoning in the AHL.

      If Klefbom isn’t ready, I’d have no problem with them sending him to the minors. I included what the scouts say as a guide for fans who haven’t seen him, but I’d hope the Oilers don’t guarantee him a spot.

      There is no need to rush Marincin. He can play two years in the AHL and I don’t think that will hurt his development.

      • Citizen David

        I don’t doubt that there is a player in Klefbom. If we are lucky his ceiling is OEL. However much of a fluid skater with great size, I think it was Bobby Mac who said hes a better puck mover then Larsson however not a better overall talent. I feel like we need to temper are enthusiasm. He has sustained injuries, his progression has been little to non. I just hope he spends time in OKC. I don’t watch Okc to much but the knock of Marincin is size and strength. However you look at Klefbom hes 6’3” 200, Teuberts 6’4” 195 and I don”t see how thats much different the 6’5” 200. Marincin would be best off with another year in OKC, but hes continued to be fairly unhearalded. The dark horse could be Fedun as a third pairing guy last year. Guys got heart and maturity .

  • G Money

    Not impressive answers from Mr. Howson. Sounds like Tambo, not MacT. I expected better.

    That said, I still hope he works out in this role. His promotion to GM seems like a classic example of “The Peter Principle” … anyone remember that old sawhorse? Old but true.

    Before he left, I heard he’d done a decent job in managing contracts, the cap, etc. so maybe the business side is there where the hockey sense is lacking.

  • Citizen David

    Biggest impediment from moving forward i feel has been removed when they choose a new GM . Lowe might be questionable , but i doubt others will be a further impediment going forward . Time will tell , but i very much rather think this move is a not back or side step . To me it is a positive one , and most fans should be more optimistic that things will get better now . Be afraid , be very afraid ? I doubt it .

  • Citizen David

    Like MacT says words right now don’t mean anything, we need to wait until the draft and free agency to see if he can do what he preaches.

    It wouldn’t hurt Klefbom at all to spend his first 15 games or so with Oklahoma, but the Oil do need to acquire another defense just to keep up. Marincin another year in the AHL with a possible callup at the end of the year to see where he is lacking.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Lets just all hope that so called top end talent progresses to the point where they’re regarded as elite players by the rest of the league, and not just being referred to as that by Oiler management.

    Scott and Craigs experience outside of this organization can only help in their current positions with this team now. Howson has a better grasp of what worked and didn’t work while in Columbus and before with his time here in Edmonton. Craig seeing how things were done in Vancouver should be of help as well. Having a second option to the way things are done by Lowe in Edmonton should help.

    MacTavish will be his own man here, he has a better grasp than Lowe and I hope he will make Kevin less and less involved in the day to day decisions as time goes by. With MacT, Lowes opinions are about to become as important as Tambellinis opinions were these last 6 yrs, not paramount. Craig MacTavish will soon become the anti-puppet I’m hoping.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Klefbom should spend no more than 20 games in the NHL next season. Let him get used to the North American game in the AHL. If he holds his own for the first half the season, bring him up for injuries and such. The time for always rushing kids has to slow at some point.

    Yandle and/or Gudbranson would be of help, if MacT can’t do any business with Poile.

    • French Toast Mafia

      20 games will burn a year off the entry level will it not? Whats the point of 20 games?

      Wouldn’t you rather have him develop all year in the minors rather than burn a year?

      • Quicksilver ballet

        If I remember correctly, he has an AHL and an NHL salary. No matter where he plays in North America, he’s burning yr 1 of his deal. If he goes back to Sweden for one more yr, then it differs it to 2014. AHL is still considered being a pro.

        I could be wrong though…. for the first time again.

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    Gregor: Let’s go into that a little bit more- “competitive people.” What’s your definition of a competitive player in the NHL?

    Howson: A player who is strong on the puck, wants the puck, will do everything he can to keep the puck, and really, really cares about winning.

    Uh oh, this doesn’t exactly describe Eberle…

    • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

      Didn’t see fans making these type of remarks last year when Eberle was in route to score 78 points. Because he’s having an off year, and he is not alone, now he is No.1 on the trade beam.?

      The first move you make is get rid of Krueger.
      A different coach {Carlyle } ie. will have these guys chasing the puck like coyotes on a rabbit.

  • Bucknuck

    I think bold is trading our first round pick, or trading Gagner/Hemsky. Perhaps some of the kids have value too (Musil, Klefbom). You should able to get some valuable pieces with those assets, particularly Gagner and the 1st pick.

    Trading J. Schultz, Yak, Ebs, Hall or RNH isn’t bold, it’s stupid.

  • DieHard

    Hall, RNH and Yak are the future #1 line and WILL dominate. Petry, Schultz and Klefbom are 3/4 of our top 4D. Depending on who is available with our first at this years draft, it and all else should be available.

  • Obiwan Eberle - Team 5-14-6-1

    I did like what he said about adding competitiveness and not rushing our young dmen going forward. This year’s Columbus team has his fingerprints all over it and they are as hard working of a team as I have seen all year. Hopefully he can help identify some of those players going forward. As for not rushing young dmen, Klefbom should start in the AHL and earn his way up the lineup. Justin Schultz has played in way too high profile of a role this season. Klefbom is younger and has not played any North American pro hockey yet. No rush, get real NHLers first.

        • DSF

          They might.

          But, as well as they have been playing, they’re riding Bobrovsky’s hot streak.

          His save percentage last season was .899 so it appears Howson got fired and lucky in the same season.

          He had five years in Columbus to make an impact and failed so I’m not sure why the Oilers feel they have a need for his skill set.

          Based on the interview above, it seems all he learned is how hard it is to be successful.

          Shouldn’t take 5 years to figure that out.

      • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

        you are correct. they are 4 points behind the conference champion contending with 60 home playoff dates over the next 10 years minnesota wild.

          • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

            So when Minnesota doesn’t win the cup this year (they won’t) – it’ll be for a whole host of reasons, none of which are because the team just wasn’t good enough?

            Ditto for Vancouver.

            Didn’t you dry hump Dale Tallon for a while? What’s the reasoning behind his tough year?

          • DSF

            1) From 12th in the WC to the cup in one off season might be a little much to expect but any team that makes the playoffs has a chance. (see 2006)

            2) See above

            3) Team was, and is, devastated by numerous injuries including its entire top line. Pretty rough to be successful under those circumstances.

            The only teams that don’t have a chance are those that can’t make the playoffs and the Oilers now have the longest run of consecutive seasons out of the playoffs.

            It’s quite sad, actually.

          • OilersBrass

            1) Come on. Don’t hedge your bets. You’ve been promoting them all season long now, you should be ready to step up and support them, however it ends.

            2) Vancouver was 12th last year? Haven’t they been “contenders” for three years now?

            3) To play from your book: every team deals with injuries. Good managers pivot and roll.

          • DSF

            I’ve thought since the beginning of the season that St. Louis will come out of the WC.

            Doesn’t mean Minnesota isn’t well on its way to being an elite team.
            As good as the current team is, their prospect pool is among the best in hockey.

  • DSF

    So they signed a small skilled forward out of college to a one year deal. Hopefully he can help OKC get into the playoffs.

    Is the contract up at the end of this season or next?

    Also, and I understand they are planning on cleaning out a lot of contracts this summer, but how is their contract situation for signing someone like Gernat? Or are they interested? Plus don’t they need to save a contract or two for some CHL grinder or a second round pick defenceman that can’t skate. If these guys don’t count really carefully they may run into trouble with the 50 man limit.

    Anyway, I am confused a little by this move. Surely this is not a signing meant to impact the big club. You never know with these half wits though, maybe they are thinking Arcobello/Rajala/Miller might look good as a “slightly undersized, quick, skilled third line” I believe is how they would try and sell it…..

    Oh well, I guess we wait and see how this version of management works out.

  • oilabroad

    one small thing I took out of the interview that I think could be key this summer is the comment about less money in the system. this will create opportunities for players who may not normally be available… could this mean our buyout will be for a bigger contract than Belanger, maybe along the lines of Horcoff?? Cap space could make us a big winner this summer by virtue of default…

  • DSF

    I think Ebs is a wonderful player, but I’d be more inclined to keep Yak if I had to choose between the 2 – EXCEPT that Hall would be pissed to no end.

    To really shake the tree you need to move Gags and Hemsky. Unless you can pull a rabbit out of your hat and find a perfect/magical 6th. Can you win in the playoffs with a top 5 of Hall, RNH, Ebs, Yak & Gagner? They need a player with an edge in their a la Richards, Kesler, Simmonds, Doan = someone who sucks to play against.

    The real business to be done as we all know is on the back end. Needed: 1 D who is a legit top pairing defenseman. Right now they have zero

  • DSF

    Jason Gregor feels that that the decision on whether to keep Smyth will be a hard decision. Not in my books. They never should have signed Smyth to a two year contract in the first place.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      You want to see something funny? Go back and read the legions on here last summer saying the Oilers should give Smyth 3.5-4 million per year for 3 years. There were many. I wonder how many of them will admit it now.

        • DSF

          Smyth should have been on 1 year contracts. Horcoff was an overpay. Khabibulin was stupid.

          Hemsky’s is what it needed to be to retain his services. I actually think that Hemsky’s contract was fine. He was make $5.0M in the last year of his previous contract so to get him at the same rate is hardly a bad contract. May not be a “good” contract.

          So in order of OK to BAD
          Hemsky
          Horcoff
          Smyth
          Khabibulin

        • Quicksilver ballet

          Agreed, but it would go to prove that the draft isn’t fixed though, right?

          Heck, we hate our Oilers most days. Why not give the rest of the league even more of a reason to hate on them. Have to hand it to Tambellini, he sure succeeded beyond managements expectations going into and coming out of this rebuild. Possibly 4 firsts in a row, Steve could’ve just set the new benchmark for rebuilding teams to shoot for.

  • DSF

    i still find it very hard to to believe that a guy can play only 60 odd games in three years and then step into the NHL.(Klefbom) it probably would be the first time in history….