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The Way I See It

I’ve long considered Scott Howson an astute hockey mind, especially during his days running the top farm team for the Edmonton Oilers in Hamilton and Cape Breton and in his first go-round as an assistant GM under Kevin Lowe. It’s some less-than-astute moves, or at least his contribution to them years later under GM Craig MacTavish, that got Howson run off last August.

Yet, here we are just 11 months later and Howson has been named Edmonton’s vice-president of player development. It’s like Howson never left. In some ways, he didn’t. While were told last summer that Howson was “moving on,” he’s been doing work for the team in pro scouting and as a consultant since then. That’s not my definition of moving on. Is it yours?

The Oilers announced Howson’s return to the management suite here. Howson met with reporters in Jasper Sunday to discuss his role. That’s here. Howson, now 57, left the Oilers in June of 2007 to take a job as GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets. After almost six years with the Blue Jackets Howson was fired. He re-surfaced in Edmonton in 2013 as a pro scout and later senior VP of hockey operations.

Last August, in the wake of a number of sketchy signings that came on Howson’s watch during his tenure under MacTavish – the most glaring being the signing of former Blue Jacket D-man Nikita Nikitin, but let’s not forget the signing of Mark Fayne – we got the news (with Peter Chiarelli in the GM’s chair) Howson was moving on. Not for very long, if at all, it turns out. He was at the Oilers draft table in Chicago in June. Then, the latest announcement.

CIRCLING BACK

Edmonton Oilers senior vice-president Scott Howson speaks about his new role for the NHL club. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

All the above makes last August’s announcement seem like a PR move more than anything else. You know, placate the public by jettisoning those who had a hand in some unquestionably bad hockey decisions during the Decade of Darkness. No question, Howson’s fingerprints were on some of those. So, move people out or around. Change things up for public consumption.

That said, even if Howson’s exit was contrived, I’m not going to pretend I’m smarter than Chiarelli and crap all over the move to bring him back. I guess you can call that confirmation bias because, like I said, I thought Howson was very effective as a second-banana to Lowe for many years. He simply had a bad stretch here after returning from CBJ as the Oilers approached a decade out of the playoffs. Then again, who didn’t?

One thing that has likely contributed to the return of Howson is that Kelly Buchberger, who was in player personnel here in his latest of many roles over the years, is leaving to join former Oiler Doug Weight’s coaching staff with the New York Islanders. I expect we’ll get an official announcement about that pretty soon.

Obviously, Chiarelli thinks enough of Howson after his years running the show in Columbus and during their relatively brief overlap in management here, to bring him back and make him part of the current management team. Good idea? Bad idea? I don’t have that answer. Might MacTavish and Howson be better suited and more effective in lesser roles as underlings to Chiarelli than they were at the top of the management chain? The boss seems to think so. I’ll go with that.

SOMETIMES YOU GET IT WRONG

Mar 23, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing Benoit Pouliot (67) takes a shot on goal in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. The Oilers defeated the Avalanche 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

My eyeballs and “gut instincts” have failed me so many times during all the years I’ve watched hockey when it comes to assessing players, I’ve lost count. That can happen for a lot of reasons. Sometimes, a hunch is dead wrong. Sometimes, thinking a competitive streak can make up for other shortcomings doesn’t. The truth is, you can’t always believe your eyes. You get it wrong. It happens. I’ve never had a problem admitting that.

Sometimes you can’t believe your numbers either, but it seems to me like some people who lean heavily on analytics have a problem admitting they’ve blown it on a player, that the numbers they’ve used to assess that player don’t accurately reflect what everybody else is seeing or provide context in the bigger picture.

Other times, we see some numbers framed and others ignored or downplayed to bolster the argument we want to make. We’ve seen some back and forth on that between Jason Gregor and Jonathan Willis lately as it pertains to Benoit Pouliot, who was just bought out by the Oilers three years into a five-year contract.

We’ve had, it goes without saying, plenty of back and forth on this website between Matt Henderson and just about everybody about D-man Kris Russell. To understate, Henderson doesn’t think much of Russell and he was saying so long before he signed a four-year contract extension worth $16 million. Henderson has not budged one inch on his assessment of the player, as is his right. No changing his mind.

For me, it’s pretty simple. I don’t care if you choose to go strictly with your eyeballs and gut, if you opt to go with numbers alone or if you blend the eyeball test with advanced stats – I think most people fall into that third category with the question being a matter of degree. If you spin Pouliot as a good signing after being bought out three years into a five-year contract or think Chiarelli is a drooling fool for signing Russell, you’ve got it wrong. It happens.

WHILE I’M AT IT

Hayley Wickenheiser has been guesting as a coach at the Oilers development camp in Jasper. She talks about it here. My guess is that Wickenheiser ends up in the organization in one capacity or another sooner than later.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

    • Dan 1919

      4mill for a top four Dman, he’ll only be 34 when it’s up. Nothing wrong with that contract when you consider the reality of the situation.

      Sure I’d like Weber and Karlsson on the team, but overall I think Chiarelli is working great with what he’s got to work with.

      • Rock11

        Where you lose some of us is the assumption that KR is a top 4 D-man. I k now that is how is has been deployed but I don’t see it that way. And yes I said “see”. I think the numbers can be useful in either confirming what you see or causing you to look closer if it goes the other way but when I watch KR play he looks like a 5-6 to me. Too small, always defending, and no offense. At any rate it is the assumption that we all agree he’s top 4 is where you lost me.

    • I don’t think he has the most team friendly deal but seeing what alot of other d-men got this weekend makes me feel alot better about it. We paid $1M more for Russell over 33 year old Girardi and 36 year old Hainsey. As for the term, let’s just hope the cap rises in a year or two and that the market value for top-4 d-men rises.

    • Dan 1919

      Good hockey knowledge, he’s being directed what to look for now rather than directing what to look for. I’m fine with him coming back, and I wanted Low and Tamballini gone long before it was popular.

  • Dan 1919

    Chiarelli has basically discredited a few outspoken people and their reliance on numbers. Strong opinions are what it takes from media people and that’s fine. But in recent years some have been trying to use stats to suggest that they simply have the only correct answer on a player, and we should all just thank them for enlightening us. Unfortunately time always proves the same thing about a dynamic game like hockey, we all have opinions that end up being right and WRONG.

  • 0W-20

    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

    In this instance, it is the old boss. I think Howson is a dunce and his return dilutes the EDM management collective.

  • Tombstone

    On Russell’s last year he will have a salary of $2.5mil with a $1 million signing bonus. On July 2nd 2021 Russell will make $1.5million($4mil aav)with a NTC that includes a 15 team trade list.

  • RJ

    The JW/Gregor comments re: Pouliot are interesting, but ultimately irrelevant.

    I thought that Lucic was a bad signing on day one, and I have yet to see enough from him to change my opinion.

    For what he produces, he’s got to do better.

    • OILFANMEXICO

      So you must be REALLY pissed off at Nuge then….same cap hit, less points than Lucic, doesn’t hit or fight. I’ll pick Lucic all day long, kinda like having Semenko on the bench, with alot more offence.

      • A good chunk of Looch’s points came when we needed them the most. I remember when Calgary was pushing us good for the divisional spot and Looch was going on a hot streak like he was in that position before(oh wait he was). A heavy, tough, poised and experienced veteran can bring soo much for a young, speedy team.

      • RJ

        I wasn’t impressed with Nuge’s production either. He’s one of the lowest scoring 1OVs in recent memory.

        My biggest issue is that if you’re going to give such a large percentage of the cap to McDavid and Drai (who have definitely earned it), then you need value throughout the rest of the lineup. I’m not seeing value from either player.

        • ColoradOIL

          I know everybody is hating on the Nuge because of his offensive output last year, but look at how much his 2 way play has vastly improved from the season before. He bulked up a little bit, throws his body around a lot more, the dude even got into a fight last year. For what it’s worth, i’d like it if we kept the Nuge around.

    • CODD_FATHER

      Lucic brings so much more to the organisation than just points. Just having him on the ice makes a difference. Do u really think we’d have 103pts without him? Take your head out of your as and wake up.

      • SourGrapes

        I agree about what Lucic brings. Was it the first game against the Flames this year where he stepped in and let it be known there be no free shots on any Oilers player? The whole team played bigger and better because of that.

      • RJ

        Hmm. Maybe it’s just me but that kid who won all the trophies at the end of the season seemed to be a big part of the reason for 103 points.

        You can credit his toughness if you want but this is not the Eakins era lineup. There’s lots of toughness in the lineup with or without Lucic.

        • OILFANMEXICO

          RJ, as much as you disscredit Lucic, he is one of the top sought after players in the leauge for a reason. We should thank our lucky stars he wanted to play on the same team as McDavid. Besides, who are we going to get to replace him(Without using your xbox controller?).

  • Mr.Snrub

    The Oilers know there’s more than like 7 guys in hockey operations in the world right?

    Just checking because sometimes it sure doesn’t seem like it. The Kevin Lowe/Mac T/Howson triumvirate have made enough mistakes to get canned 10 times over and they’re only on 2 firings between ’em so far with subsequent re-hirings of course. Peter Chiarelli is the GM and the buck stops with him no question, no shadow GM Lowe hovering over him like with cough General Manager cough Tambo & Mac T but i still don’t want these bozos throwing out their smartest men in the room opinions when it’s been proven time after time after time that these clowns have a success rate way way south of the Mendoza line. This deal fails the smell test something fierce!

  • Alsker

    Whoever’s idea it was to bring Hayley in as a guest coach(from her interview it sounds like TMcL) deserves a raise!!! The one thing these kids need(other than maturity)is a mother figure. Well, one with more international/olympic/WC experience than they may ever have. Great decision for both the players and Hayley. She could have honestly played in our top 6 if not 1st line for most of the last decade. Hoping she either gets Asst. Coach in Bakersfield or somewhere in player development.

    • Tombstone

      A mother figure?? Just wow.
      Remember boys don’t stay up past your bedtime, say please and thank you, and “you’re” and “your” are not the same words.
      But I guess you want hockey players to be soft push-overs.

      • Alsker

        It may well be more than 35+yrs since I was these guys age but people I’ve hired(under 25) over the years who get frustrated/doubt themselves…go to their parents for a little positive assurance. Hayley(being a parent of a son 17yrs old)knows how to both be sympathetic and stern…ok “mother figure” may have been the wrong term, shall we say “non-imposing” instead?

  • crabman

    @ Robin Brownlee, I don’t like the Russell signing for money or length but at least the contract is structured in a way it should be movable as long as his play doesn’t fall off a cliff. I see the need we had on D and like you said ufa get paid. But I don’t like the numbers.
    The same argument can be said about the Pouliot deal. At the time I didn’t like the $ or term but ufa get paid and the Oil were struggling to get players to come and play here. The contract should have been tradable unless his play fell of a cliff, which happened this year. Pouliot was exactly the player he was advertised as in his first 2 seasons. At one point he played on our top line that was dominent for a period of time.
    So to argue that people that don’t like the Russell deal are wrong and so are the people who liked the Pouliot deal doesn’t make sense to me.
    And for the record I watch the games and enjoy seeing how the stats line up with what I am seeing.
    I have time for advanced stats but know they are far from perfect.

    • “So to argue that people that don’t like the Russell deal are wrong . . . ”
      The narrative I’m referring to went well beyond not liking the deal. If you read what’s been written you’d know that As for the argument that Pouliot was pretty good for the first two years of the contract, well, sure. That’s fine and good except that the contract was for five years and he was bought out after three. On to team seven. Any red flags that don’t show up in the numbers there?

      • crabman

        I’ve read everything writen about Russell here on ON and almost every other blog and article writen about the Oilers this off season. Russell is a better player than people give him credit for. That said the fact that many of the supporters like his deal because he will be movable, to his 6th team (red flag), says a lot about the deal and the way they see the player. I like him until one of Benning or Nurse pass him on the depth chart and then we have an over paid 3rd pairing Dman when we can’t afford to be over paying players.
        I never said I defend Pouliot. He was overpaid from the start and his contract was too long. Same way I feel about the Russell signing. But at the time of both signings both players are/were usful enough.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    The disappointment I have is the optics.

    These guys aren’t stupid. Let’s try and agree on that. But the optics of this team before Chiarelli and Bobby Nick started reshaping the management philosophies was not good to say the least.

    They are finally turning the corner and people are forgiving or forgetting or ignoring MacT and Lowe being here and they pull this. It just reeks.

    Howson might be smarter than any one gives him credit. But why is it there is a small quota of former Oilers who are all hired as VPs or higher seemingly immediately yet other former Oilers go elsewhere to find jobs and, you know, prove themselves and work their way up into new positions. They prove themselves. Hire Billy Ranford and I’d be overjoyed. Proven goaltender coach. We need one. Billy Guerin. Proved himself with the Pens. Doug Weight has proved himself with the Isles.

    What has this lot proven outside of the 780?

    • Like what I’ve seen from Weight, and he did a good enough job to get beyond the interim tag, but he’s still short of what I’d consider a track record of success. Same with Guerin. Good starts to their post-playing careers so far.

      • FISTO Siltanen

        Fair reply.

        But when the Oilers bring back recycled people who have failed miserably here before they do a disservice to their brand and hinder the growth of that person.

        I’d hope some of these guys would pick themselves up, prove the haters wrong and have success elsewhere. And maybe then return to the organization.

  • MotoDave118

    Optics in this case may look bad if you only take in a small sample size and disregard all the positives moves Howson has made over his career. He’s part of the Chiarelli team and can have some input but not the final say, I’m good with that.

    As far as Russell getting resigned, I think it was a necessary move. Is it the ideal, no but free agents get paid. Much like auctions bidding wars happen and prices keep going up. Russell had a solid season for him and he would have received his money from one of the 30 other teams. One way or another Edmonton had to pay someone to play on the back end and maybe they don’t structure the deal so it’s movable at the tail end. If we keep drafting well and some of those guys develop into NHLers then signing high priced ufas from others teams won’t be a necessity but a luxury.

    • Alsker

      Does it matter what the title on their desk reads…they get a paycheck from “batman” and Kevin like Trump keeps pretending he knows best. Ok, maybe being an ass with that comment, but after a decade of debacle you would think Katz would have learned that Klowe and his buddies aren’t worth sh&t.

    • OTOF2

      I wouldn’t be surprized if Katz just kets them pick their own title. This move does not pass the smell test. Re-hire past failures. Why? The optics are terrible.

      • Alsker

        And Klowe son is an Oiler prospect….right…lol…as I said earlier …”doesn’t matter what the name plate on their desk says”…once a Lowe backer, always an employed Lowe backer”…if Howson is qualified and serious about his job, I’m all good with it…If it’s a gift from Klown then I hope 1st tier fans enjoy paying for this BS!!!!

  • Mcjesuslaz

    Man everyone on this website complains so damn much about everything that happens “just be heppy”(bryzy) we have Connor mcdavid and everyone in the league knows something special about this team and knows we are gonna be winning cups don’t worry about Russell’s 4×4 don’t worry about Connors 13.25 m don’t worry if what drai is asking is 10 m. Who gives a damn if we are up against the cap. We are gonna win cups 1000%. Get a grip on yourselves the DOD is over

  • I have a bit of an issue with the characterisation of those defending the Pouliot deal. He was exactly what they wanted him to be but later fell off a cliff for no apparent reason. I don’t believe I’ve heard of anybody successfully predicting this sort of thing. Even the usually infallible general managers of NHL teams.

    All contracts are a gamble, and the GMs job is to make the best wagers possible. They aren’t all going to work, even when the odds say the are likely to be good moves. In the case of Pouliot, they made a bet that he would provide a certain type of game and that is exactly what he provided until he fell of that cliff. Unless you can point me towards someone who predicted that was going to happen then signing him was a good bet that failed.

    This is a very different thing from deals where people can see for miles that a deal isn’t going to work out.

    When people argue that Pouliot was a good signing, they aren’t claiming it worked out, they are saying that at the time it was a good signing. All of them will happily admit he didn’t work out last year. On the other hand suggesting it was a terrible signing because a guy mysteriously fell apart is disingenuous and reeks a bit of agenda.

    So while you’re telling people to admit they were wrong I’m wondering why, when he was exactly the kind of player people claimed he was who had something unpredictable go wrong. I find it telling that so much of the commentary about this has been “ha ha stats fail!” when, if this was about Russell, it would be something more like, “what is wrong with Kris Russell?” I haven’t seen this many people this happy to see someone fail in a while, and nobody even seems the least bit curious about why it happened.

    • crabman

      Tigerunderglass, great point about people seemingly loving the fact the player failed. But the contract was never a good bet. At the time many people didn’t like the deal. It was too much for too long, sound familiar? He was a player who has bounced around from team to team and couldn’t stick anywhere longer than a year. The only reason the Oilers signed him was because they sucked and had a hard time getting players to come here. A good bet would have been a 1 2 or 3 year deal at best. But he did give what was expected from him in those 1st 2 years. The problem was at best he might have covered the bet but at worse his game falls off and he becomes a liability which happened.
      My problem now is the Russell deal that stinks like another Pouliot, or Fayne deal. Too much for too long because the Oilers were desperate again.

      • FISTO Siltanen

        Russell deal is backloaded so at least there is potential to move him.

        Would not be the slightest surprised if he got traded heading into his final year of the contract and was promptly bought out. A broke team like the Coyotes could pay a million bucks to have a 3M cap hit. That’s a huge win for them.

        • crabman

          What about years 2 and 3? It’s nice to have depth but if he is passed by Nurse or Benning on the depth chart we have a $4M player in oir 3rd pair. And at a time when McDavid’s massive deal kicks in and both Nurse and Benning will be getting raises. If everyone progresses and Russell is still an Oiler I doubt both the other 2 are on the team.

      • Anyone who says they predicted Pouliot falling off a cliff at 29 years old is full of it.

        He was a good bet to cover the term at his age and player type. Of course less term was preferable, but the exact same people who love the Lucic contract are now pretending they knew Pouliot was going to implode? Nonsense. The fact of the matter is that if Pouliot gave us the exact same results he did the last two seasons the team would be happy and if they needed room he’d be tradeable.

        The fact that he played for a lot of teams isn’t a great argument because he was a useful player for most of those teams.

        • crabman

          Not saying I or anyone predicated his implosion. A lot of people didn’t like giving a player who couldn’t stick with another team for longer than 1 season a 5 year deal. It wasn’t needed. The odds of him out performing his contract was low. So best bet was he would cover the bet. Sure he was serviceable for his previous teams but he was also expendable. Those players don’t get long term contracts because people aren’t lining up to give one to them.
          I don’t like the Lucic term either but the difference is he is a harder type of player to find. Infact the Oilers spent the better part of a decade trying to draft their own Lucic. He can score, fight and is a physically intimidating player who can play with skill. A team needs to pay a premium to get that player. Pouliot on the other hand is a replaceable player. So much that until he signed in Edmonton he was replaced by every team he played for.

  • BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull

    NHL needs to consider a franchise player status like the NFL. If 20 odd precent is going to one player good luck. But if the ownership wants to back up the Brinks trunk to a player that’s not counted on the cap? Do It

  • OILFANMEXICO

    Imo, the last ten years has shown us what doesn’t work when building an NHL team. Chiarelli has proven (to me) that he knows how to build a cup contender team. We landed in the playoffs and that’s a HUGE step forward after D.O.D. Besides trading Ebs and Pouliot our team is essentially the same. To me that is a positive, same coach, same system, rookies have more experience, player comradery all will lead us to hit the ground running. Sekera’s injury is the only caveat, hopefully Benning, Nurse, Klefbom and Larsson can pick up some slack.

  • Spydyr

    “Obviously, C̶h̶i̶a̶r̶e̶l̶l̶i̶ Katz and Lowe thinks enough of Howson after his years running the show in Columbus and during their relatively brief overlap in management here, to bring him back and make him part of the current management team. ”

    I believe this is closer too the truth. Just my opinion.

  • nova_scoilers_tia

    so why don’t you just say that the guy’s a mook and the guy who hired him is a mook and the guy who hired him is a mook and that we’re living in mother luvin mookistan

  • ubermiguel

    Do people actually believe that Nicholson or Chiarelli have any loyalty to any Oilers employee? Or that they’d take a job here just to be Katz’s puppets? These are smart, well-connected hockey men, the Oilers were lucky to land them. If they keep Howson, MacT and Lowe around it’s becasue those guys know hockey and make the team better. Ok, as GMs they were all in over their heads (at least Lowe had one glorious year as GM), but they must be doing well in their current roles.