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Jackets' owner: Howson safe, but changes are coming

by Adam Kimelman
Columbus Blue Jackets majority owner John P. McConnell says he's as upset and disappointed as anyone by his team's place in the NHL standings.

It was a season that was filled with great promise, as the Blue Jackets spent big in the summer to trade for All-Star center Jeff Carter and sign defenseman James Wisniewski. Talk of the second Stanley Cup Playoff berth in franchise history was frequent.

"Everybody was looking forward to this season, myself included," McConnell told the Columbus Dispatch in an interview published Friday morning. "I think that makes the fall even worse."

The Jackets started the season without a win in their first eight games, and at the All-Star break they're 13-30-6. Their 32 points put them 30th in the standings, nine points behind 29th-place Edmonton.

"You can't look at one thing. Goaltending is certainly No. 1 on the list. But how much different would it have been with a better defense? How much better would the club have played with stronger goaltending, in terms of elevating their confidence?" -- John P. McConnell

"It has just not turned out as we'd hoped or planned," said McConnell. "Everybody wants to blame somebody when something goes wrong, and sometimes there's nobody to blame.

"To me, I think everybody in the organization has a little bit of blame."

That includes team president Mike Priest and general manager Scott Howson, but McConnell said neither should be worried about their jobs right now. McConnell said Priest has little to do with the team's play because he's not part of on-ice decisions.

Of Howson, in his fifth season as GM, McConnell said, "As of right now, I know of no reason why he won't be our (GM next season)."

He added that he believes Priest and Howson, "are smart, learning people."

McConnell said he believes things went wrong right from the drop of the puck. The Jackets started the season 0-7-1 and had just two wins in their first 15 games (2-12-1). Wisniewski sat out the first eight games after a suspension for a hit in the preseason, and Carter broke a bone in his foot five games into the season and missed a month.

The rough start, he said, "put the club in a very fragile place that we never quite were able to recover from."

"You can't look at one thing," McConnell added. "Goaltending is certainly No. 1 on the list. But how much different would it have been with a better defense? How much better would the club have played with stronger goaltending, in terms of elevating their confidence?

"We had James Wisniewski (suspended) and we had a wave of injuries. Those can't be used as an excuse. But all those things conspired to keep this team from coming together as it needed to."

McConnell said sometime in the next two weeks, he would meet with Priest, Howson, senior advisor Craig Patrick and interim coach Todd Richards about how to approach the roster for the rest of the season.

"Every option you can think of is being considered," McConnell said.

That includes what he called the "nuclear option" -- making any and all players available in a trade.

The Dispatch already has reported that Carter is on the trade block. Acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers in June for forward Jakub Voracek and the No. 8 pick in the 2011 Entry Draft -- a pick the Flyers used on rookie All-Star Sean Couturier -- Carter has just 10 goals and 17 points in 30 games and has been out since Jan. 8 because of a shoulder injury.

Also, the newspaper reported the club is not expected to bring back goalie Steve Mason next season. The 2009 Calder Trophy winner is just 5-18-2 with a 3.43 goals-against average and .882 save percentage in 26 games.

McConnell would not comment on either player specifically, but said the degree to which the changes occur will be noticeable.

"We're going to get to a point very quickly where it's going to be obvious to people how extreme we're getting," McConnell said.

"It has to be pretty clear (by the deadline) which way we're going to go. But one way or another, we are committed to improving. We thought we did this last summer; we didn't, for whatever reason. It's hard to put your finger on it, but we're going to keep searching for the right answers."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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