“Every fan wants hope and that’s what we’re going to provide them. I think we’re headed in the right direction,” said Howson, formally introduced Friday as the club’s new GM.
Most of the pieces are in place for making the Blue Jackets competitive, Howson said, though he refused to be pinned down on when that would happen.
“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to over-promise and under-deliver,” he said.
Howson replaces Doug MacLean, the team’s original president and GM who was fired in April.
The search came down to the wire, with Howson hired right before next week’s NHL draft in Columbus, because the club wanted to make its choice carefully, president Mike Priest said.
“Our No. 1 priority was to find the best person we could to lead our hockey organization,” Priest said.
Howson said while he hadn’t made any personnel decisions for the front office or the ice, he was ready to help the Blue Jackets in the draft and was familiar with prospects the team might be interested in.
“I have an almost dangerous knowledge of the young players” in the upcoming draft, he joked.
MacLean, who had been with the team since its inception, oversaw the drafts, signed free agents, made trades and sculpted the public perception of the franchise during his tenure. But the team never made the playoffs, the only NHL team that has never appeared in post-season play.
Howson will have the same responsibilities and described his management style as “probably a little reserved and understated.” While he would solicit opinions from coach Ken Hitchcock and other staff members, Howson said the ultimate decisions would rest with him.
Those decisions could include making trades or aggressive pitches to free agents in the off-season to complement the Blue Jackets core of young players, including Rick Nash, Nikolai Zherdev, Dan Fritsche and Gilbert Brule. All four began NHL careers as teens, and Priest criticized MacLean last week for pushing them into the league too soon.
“I have one simple goal: To build a championship team that consistently performs at the highest level,” Howson said.
Howson’s playing career peaked with 18 games as a forward for the New York Islanders in 1984-1985. His playing days behind him, Howson earned a law degree from Toronto’s York University and ran Edmonton’s top farm club from 1994-2000. He was hired by the Oilers in 2000 and the team promoted him to assistant general manager a year later.
In Edmonton, he oversaw personnel decisions and contract negotiations, including salary cap issues, a skill that helped the small-market Oilers reach the Stanley Cup final in 2006 and could also help the Blue Jackets.
Under Howson, the Blue Jackets will stress discipline, strength of character and a strong work ethic, Hitchcock said.
“It’s a privilege and an honour to play in the NHL. He believes in this philosophy,” Hitchcock said. “He wants to build a team based on character.”