Media Conference Call
June 15, 2007
New Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager Scott Howson held a conference call with members of the non-Columbus media Friday afternoon. Below is a transcript of the call.
Question: Peter Chiareli was hired last year by the Boston Bruins, Ray Shero by the Pittsburgh Penguins, with the exception of the Garth Snow hiring (New York Islanders), your hiring today in Columbus, are we seeing a maturation of NHL organizations going with gentlemen with greater skill set and utilizing experience as opposed to a sort of glorified “old boys” network?
Blue Jackets General Manager Scott Howson: I think the game has changed enough it has become more complicated from a business sense that maybe people are gravitating towards a certain skill set. Having said that, I think that what organizations are doing are just trying to find the right people. It just so happens that the recent hires were assistant GMs with some organizations that were ready to take on the head role.
Q: What is your situation with the Draft? Are you allowed to sit at the Columbus Draft Table? What have you worked out with the Oilers? How does that work?
Howson: I will be sitting at the Columbus Draft Table. The Oilers, as you know, pick in front of us (Columbus) so it’s not as big of an issue. I think it would be a bigger issue if Columbus was picking ahead of Edmonton with the first pick and I have had access to the Oilers’ list. Columbus doesn’t pick again until 37 (second round); the Oilers will have picked three more times. Kevin and I both decided that was the right thing to do with respect to me sitting at the Columbus table.
Q: Will you kind of feel left out because you don’t really know who the Columbus people are thinking of drafting?
Howson: I will obviously sit with people starting tomorrow and get up to speed on what they are thinking. And really, you rely on your scouts so much, as a General Manager, because they are the one who have seen the players play 10, 12, 15 times, when the general managers see them once or twice, and they only see the top end guys. So once you get past the top players, the GMs really don’t have the depth of knowledge to make any type of judgment and it can be dangerous at times to make an adjustment on the top pick.
Q: Will you be on (Draft) stage with the first pick?
Howson: I will be, yes.
Q: Will that seem odd with (former Blue Jackets President and General Manager) Doug MacLean working for TSN?
Howson: No, I don’t have any problem with it. Doug’s got his job to do and I am sure he’ll be very, very good at TSN.
Q: Is there anything you can address, in regards to (Blue Jackets American Hockey League affiliate Syracuse Crunch coaches) Ross Yates and Trent Cull, since they have one year left on their contracts. Are they going to be back next year?
Howson: I don’t know an awful lot about them. I’ve heard good things about them. I know that the team, in Syracuse, had a rough start and performed very well the second half of the year. I am anxious to meet them. I don’t expect any changes to be made there. It will just be a matter of me getting to know them.
Q: Can you give us your time frame on when you became an assistant GM, did you think ‘I am going to be a general manager’ in five years? Or 10 years?
Howson: I didn’t really have a time frame when I was planning to become a general manager when I was given the job in 2000 as an assistant to the general manager (with Edmonton). I had more of a time frame when I left the practice of law in 1994 to go to the American Hockey League, I thought I would be able to get to the NHL within two to three years, and it took me six years. I think things always take longer than you hope and as far as this position here, I felt over the last year or so, I was getting closer to being ready. I think this is the right time for me to move into this. I certainly learned a lot this year, going through what we went through in Edmonton. Going through the experience with trading Ryan (Smyth to the New York Islanders), that was a learning experience for me. It’s helped prepare me for the job you have to do in this position.
Q: Did you do a lot of things that a general manager would do, only you were the assistant general manager?
Howson: No, I think I did a lot of general manager type of things, but always with (Edmonton General Manager) Kevin (Lowe) and for Kevin. Kevin is a wonderful person to work with, and he is very unselfish and he delegates very well, so I was involved in everything. All the decisions that were made, I was a part of the process, and that’s invaluable, that’s what’s helped prepare me the most for this position.
Q: Can failure be a learning experience for you and help better prepare you?
Howson: There’s no doubt failure is a part of all of us learning and making us better and so is success. We always believed we were doing the right thing in Edmonton and have tried to do the right thing, but this is a tough business and you’re going to make some mistakes. You are always going to make mistakes, and you learn from those and move forward. A lot of things happened this year, after last year, and the Oilers are smarter because of it and so will I.
Q: Could you talk generally about your minor league philosophy?
Howson: I believe it’s a privilege to play in the National Hockey League. I think that the Blue Jackets have a lot of young promising players, and we’ll be patient with those young players. We’ll give them the necessary time and guidance and the training so they turn into good professionals. The players decide who makes the Blue Jackets. If they’re ready, they will decide that and they will show that they are ready and they’ll make the team. I am certainly of the mindset that players can benefit from AHL experience, especially young players. It’s a great League. People learn from good pros. So if the player’s not ready, it’s a great place to go. I don’t plan on rushing anybody through the system, if they’re not ready.
Q: Obviously you quit playing in the late 1980s and went to law school, did you think you were just going to be lawyer and stay in law? Or how did you get into the hockey business?
Howson: When I went through law school, I became a lawyer, I did not have any intention of getting involved in hockey management, but as I worked through the early stages of my lawyer career, the passion for hockey rekindled. About two years in, I realized I wanted to get back into hockey. I sent a letter to Glen Sather because I knew there was a position open with the Cape Breton (AHL) and that’s how I got the job, and that’s how I joined the Oilers with the Cape Breton Oilers in 1994.
Q: A lot of other general managers want to hire their own coach, but you’re coming in with a coach already there. Was that any concern to you? I presume it wasn’t because of Ken Hitchcock’s stature, but a lot of GMs want their own coach.
Howson: Coaching is absolutely critical in this business, and I know I don’t have to tell you that. I believe that Ken Hitchcock is one of the true assets of this organization, and as I look around the League, I feel very fortunate to come into a situation where the coaching is excellent.
Q: I’ve been told that Ken Hitchcock is looking to add another assistant coach. If he wants it, does he get it?
Howson: It hasn’t been discussed yet, so it’s premature for me to comment on that right now. Those are discussions that will take place here over the next two or three weeks, and then we will have to arrive at the right decisions.
Q: Are you keeping (Blue Jackets Assistant General Manager) Jim Clark and (Blue Jackets Director of Player Personnel) Don Boyd? Are you keeping the management team in tact?
Howson: Yes, I don’t have anyone to bring in. I am anxious to get going with the staff here. There will certainly be a period of evaluation with these people to make sure that my style and their style mesh, that they have the right attitudes and commitment and passion and the unselfishness and the talents and all of those things that make up a great team off the ice. That’s what I am looking forward to and there will be a period of evaluation, but I am looking forward to working with them.
Q: Did Kevin Lowe say that you can’t hire any of his people?
Howson: No, he really didn’t say anything. That hasn’t been discussed, and out of respect for the Oilers, I have to get to know our scouts before I think about hiring anybody else. That hasn’t been discussed, but there is no intention of hiring any of the Oilers people.
Q: What do you think of Nikolai Zherdev?
Howson: I think he is an extremely skilled and talented player that has had some issues here that we will find out about and try to deal with and get the most out of him. I know one thing, there was a game in Edmonton two years ago and we were winning 1-0 and Zherdev got the puck inside the blueline, went the length of the ice and undressed one of our defensemen and scored to make it 1-1. That type of skill and speed you just don’t find, so you have to be careful of players of that quality in terms of skill and talent.
Q: What should be the identity of Columbus Blue Jackets? What kind of typical players do you like? What would you like the style of play to be?
Howson: I like players who are obviously talented and skilled, that are disciplined, that are passionate about hockey, that are unselfish, that have a high regard for accountability and responsibility. I see that the culture of team is changing a little bit over the second half of the last year when Hitch got here. This team is becoming a harder team to play against, and I like those types of players, those players that put it on the line every night. And this team has some size, so I see that as our identity. A team that has good size and are hard to play against and is competitive.
Q: How much have you talked with Hitchcock and how much input do you see him having in personnel decisions?
Howson: There is an environment in Edmonton, where you have Craig MacTavish, who has been in the National Hockey League for 25 years, knows the League very well, and we relied on Craig a lot for his opinion in any of our decisions and used him as a resource. Ken’s been in the League for 10-15 years, has won a Stanley Cup, and he’s a great resource for someone like me to have, and I will use him a lot. There will be a lot of trust in Ken and his opinions, and we’ll move forward together.
Q: To your understanding did he (Hitchcock) have a part in the hiring process?
Howson: I met with Hitch as part of the process. I can’t tell you what kind of say he had. It’s my belief, and I have been told, that he was a part of the process and offered his opinion, but the decision did not rest in his hands.
Q: What advice did Kevin Lowe advice give you before you left?
Howson: Kevin’s been very supportive. He didn’t say a lot when I left. He said good luck, and that I deserved the opportunity, and he’s really been saying that all along and at some point I was going to get my chance. It was very quick when I left. We were at meetings in British Columbia and I had to get out of town quickly and back home to review the contract that was being sent to me. He was happy for me and obviously wished me well.