James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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A brand new coat

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Chances are, most NHL executives - particularly general managers and head coaches - know that there’s an invisible clock ticking down to zero hour the second they take on a job. (Unless you happen to be David Poile or Darcy Regier and/or the head coaches that they currently employ.)

Still, that sneaking feeling inevitably increases its stride to the “horror movie killer who inexplicably walks faster than you can run” level when it comes to seemingly no-win jobs. So, for most of us, it wasn’t surprising that the Columbus Blue Jackets decided to can mediocre GM Scott Howson. If anything, many of us were surprised that new team president John Davidson even waited that long.

(Want to play GM without all that pesky real-life pressure? Sign up for a Yahoo league and use the Super Guide to dominate. Maybe you can even join a league with Howson in it!)

THE EXCEPTION

I’ve often remarked that some of the best-run teams in sport share an interesting common fabric of continuity. When you look at the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL and the Detroit Red Wings and a handful of other teams in the NHL, they might occasionally change coaches and general managers, but it rarely happens.

The funny thing about the Blue Jackets franchise is that, for a moribund outfit like this, they actually having been surprisingly stable … at least when it comes to their top executives. Howson became just the second GM in franchise history in June 2007, filling the not-so-big (figuratively?) shoes of Doug MacLean.

Howson’s made a parade of bad moves in his tenure, although in some cases (see: Jeff Carter), the poor results weren’t solely his fault. Either way, his example presents the possibility that stability doesn’t always guarantee victories; sometimes it just means that the same dude will keep blundering away.

THE NEW GUY

Still, change is in the air. As of this writing, it sounds like Jarmo Kekalainen will be the guy. I don’t know much about him other than that he 1) worked with Davidson in St. Louis, 2) has had a lot of success running Jokerit in Finland, 3) would probably be the first Finnish GM in NHL history and 4) looks like one of or a combination of two different character actors Rutger Hauer and James Tolkan.

It’s far too early to judge how Kekalainen - or any other GM - will impact things fantasy-wise. Still, the most relevant thing is to ponder which guys are playing for contracts and which guys might be nervous now that the people who vouched from them got fired.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Most obviously, the team remains at a crossroads in net. Both starter candidates Steve Mason and Sergei Bobrovsky are restricted free agents this summer. Really, things couldn't get much worse for Mason, so maybe the new guy will like him more than most people do for some reason. Bobrovsky might have less rope with a new GM since onlookers tend to give the young Russian mixed reviews. Even fringe veteran Curtis McElhinney is an unrestricted free agent.

Vinny Prospal - he’s been one of the few pleasant surprises for Columbus, falling just a few points short of the team scoring lead behind Rick Nash last season. A reasonable GM would probably want to keep him around at the right price, but Howson might have been higher on him than most …

Artem Anisimov - A talented but not quite reliable performer who will be an RFA this summer.

James Wisniewski, Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson - The Blue Jackets' nearly $15 million trio were a big part of Howson's blueprint, but a new GM might not be so fond of those defensemen, especially the double-edged sword types in Wisniewski and Johnson. They all have long-term deals, but they're polarizing enough to be worth watching ... especially since an amnesty could provide a nuclear option.

I wouldn’t get too excited about the impact of a GM change; a coaching fix would have a better chance of providing a boost (even a short-term, placebo effect kind of thing).

Let’s move on to more immediate fantasy concerns after the jump.


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James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than two years. Follow him on Twitter.
Email :James O'Brien



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