It was early in 2012 and the Columbus Blue Jackets were hitting rock bottom. Fans were organizing a grassroots protest over the direction of the team, clamoring for General Manager Scott Howson and President Mike Priest to be fired. Howson had fired head coach Scott Arniel, the man he hand picked to replace Ken Hitchock. Hitch, you'll recall, was sent packing less than 12 months after leading the franchise to its first Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.
Later in 2012, Howson sent disgruntled center Jeff Carter to Los Angeles after the Carter and Nash experiment failed miserably. Howson then traded Nash over the summer after telling the public about the then-captain's wishes to be moved. Columbus had finished in 30th place for the first time in franchise history, a full nine points behind 29th-place Edmonton but it was the Oilers who won the top pick in the NHL Draft.
It just seemingly continued downhill from there for Howson. The team selected Ryan Murray #2 overall at the draft, declining multiple trade offers to move back. Murray would end up injuring his shoulder with his junior team and would have to delay his professional debut a year.
The lockout ensued in the fall so fans had to wait to see all these new pieces brought in. Some backup goalie in Philly was brought in to compete with Steve Mason. Marc Methot was traded for Nick Foligno. Gone was Nash and in came Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov. There were rumblings about some kid named Boone Jenner. No one really knew what to expect out of the 2012-2013 season with so many new players and the prolonged lockout.
During the fall of 2012, the team hired John Davidson to be its President of Hockey Operations. A few months later, JD tabbed "his guys" in Jarmo Kekalainen to be the new GM of the Blue Jackets. The team had stumbled to a 5-12-2 start in the shortened season and it looked like the duo at the top had quite a long rebuilding process ahead of them.
We know the rest of the story, so far at least. The team, buoyed by a Vezina-winning season in net from Bobrovsky, would go on a 19-5-5 tear and miss the postseason by a tiebreaker. Marian Gaborik and Nathan Horton were added and optimism was actually in the air in Columbus. The Jackets finally made the playoffs again in 2014. The injury bug hit in 2014-2015. Again, there is optimism with the club as regular season play gets underway.
Davidson mentioned a "brick by brick" approach when he first got to Columbus in building the club. That phrase signified to a lot of fans that this rebuild would take time, patience. Sports fans, especially those who have been cheering on a losing franchise, do not want to be patient. They want wins, they want excitement. What many did not see at the time was that there were actually some solid bricks already in place.
On the top line, both Ryan Johansen (drafted 4th overall in 2010) and Nick Foligno (acquired via trade from Ottawa) joined the Jackets with Scott Howson as GM. Boone Jenner (2011 Draft, 2nd Round) and Brandon Dubsinky (the Nash trade) are Scott Howson "bricks." Howson was also at the helm for drafting Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert, David Savard, Dalton Prout, Cody Goloubef, and Jared Boll. Jack Johnson and Fedor Tyutin were both brought in under Howson as well.
Most importantly the team found stability in net after Howson trusted Steve Mason too long after his Calder season. No one would argue that Bob is the most important brick Howson laid for the future of the franchise, though most doubted that would be the case in 2012.
There is no debating that after the 2012 season, the organization needed help. New leadership was needed, a new culture was needed. It was rock bottom, yes, but through all of that there were actually some really good players here. Though he was the GM through those tough years, Scott Howson was not as bad as everyone thought in those moments. He certainly was not deserving of protests - of course, no one could quite see where this thing was going to end up.
This is the life in professional sports. If the team does not win enough while you are the coach or GM, you will lose that job eventually. Patience had run out in Columbus with management. That does not mean that things were not building towards something positive. Howson's "fan capital" had run out with some poor decisions. He was tasked with his own rebuilding after the Doug Maclean Era failed miserably. The team looked to be on the upswing in 2009 with a playoff berth, but failing to reach the postseason again doomed Howson.
Now, we are nearly three years removed from Scott Howson as the Columbus GM. His fingerprints on the franchise are slowly fading, as if chalk coming off a chalkboard. If you look, you will still his mark here. There is, of course, some new writing on that chalkboard, some new bricks in place.
We can all acknowledge that what was handed over to the new management group was not all bad. In fact, depending on how things play out in the next few years, maybe Scott Howson will get some holiday cards from folks in Columbus. Sure, his tenure here ended on a down note but maybe fans will learn to appreciate what he was building here before he left.