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Summer Coming to a Close

by Scott Howson / Columbus Blue Jackets

We are just over two weeks away from the Annual NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan and just over three weeks from the start of training camp. Both of these events signal the beginning of our season and I am very excited about both.

The past few weeks have started to bring to a close what has been a very busy summer… probably the busiest for me since I joined the Blue Jackets four years ago. We have been very active in terms of player personnel and made significant changes to our hockey operations staff. Before I address some recent news, I'd like to share with you a tremendous experience that I had last weekend.

I was one of nearly 5,000 people who participated in Pelotonia, a bike ride that raises money for cancer research. My wife and son have both ridden in the past, but this year was my first time and I can't say enough about the experience. Cancer has recently touched my family and to be among this phenomenal group of people riding for loved ones who have beaten the disease, are currently fighting it, or in some cases, in memory of those they've lost, was very uplifting.

In just three years, Pelotonia has become the second-largest single location fund-raising event in the United States. In its first two years, the event raised $12.5 million and this year that number is expected to grow by nearly $12 million. It truly was a remarkable day… and also a bit humbling.

The humbling part came as I was in the middle of my 43-mile ride to Amanda. I noticed two riders shoot past me and realized it was Rick Nash and Aaron Johnson, both of whom began the ride well behind me. In an ill-advised moment, I decided I would try to catch up with them. I abandoned that effort quickly as it became clear that even if I caught them I wouldn't be able to maintain the pace to stay with them. It was great to see Rick, Aaron and R.J. Umberger all riding. In fact, R.J. had a problem with his bike frame, so Rick lent him his bike so he could finish his 102-mile ride. Great teamwork!

A few days before Pelotonia, I attended the NHL's Research, Development & Orientation Camp in Etobicoke, Ontario, where 36 prospects were on the ice to test proposed changes to our sport. Some of the changes that were looked at during the two-day camp were minor while others more dramatic.

Among the ones I liked were: making the nets more shallow – from 44 inches to 40 inches – which gives players more room behind the goal to make plays; adding a verification line three inches behind the goal line to provide greater support during the goal review process; hybrid icing that gives the linesman discretion to call icing or wave it off based upon whether the offensive or defensive player is going to win the race for the puck; and requiring a team to have control of the puck outside the defensive zone before the whistle is blown for a delayed penalty.

One of the other scenarios examined involved overtime in which the teams would play four minutes at 4-on-4 and then three minutes at 3-on-3 before going to the shootout. That one I need to think about. One proposal that I don't like involves players serving the entire two-minute penalty no matter how many times the opposition scores. I don't know at this point what, if any, of the innovations will be put into place but I think it is important that we continually look to improve our game in areas that don't compromise its history and integrity, as well as examining ways to improve player safety.

Internally, our organization has also spent the past several months evaluating many facets of hockey operations. We have made a number of changes to our hockey operations staff this summer. Most recently, we promoted Tyler Wright to Director of Amateur Scouting & Development Coach, hired Greg Drechsel as an amateur scout and moved Sam McMaster from our amateur to pro scouting side.

Tyler continues to play an important role within our organization working with our prospects and now will be a key decision maker along with Paul Castron at the Entry Draft. Greg is a former college player who has spent the past two decades as an NHL scout with the Los Angeles Kings and as an assistant coach at some of the top NCAA hockey programs in the country. Sam is a former general manager of the Los Angeles Kings and will bring tremendous experience and insight on the pro scouting side for us.

We've also interviewed a number of candidates in recent weeks for the Director of Player Personnel position, but at this point have not found the right fit. The duties that typically fall under a person in this position will be shared by Chris MacFarland, Tyler and Paul and I am very comfortable that those responsibilities are in good hands as we start the season.

Thanks for your support of Blue Jackets hockey. Just a reminder, you can follow me on Twitter at @GMScottHowson.

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