Letter from Scott Howson

Light the LampSenior Writer IJuly 8, 2008

This is a letter from Scott Howson to season ticket holders. I would imagine a lot of readers out there aren't (yet) season ticket holders so I thought I'd share his latest one on this space:

To: Blue Jackets Season Ticket Holders

Good afternoon. Over the past couple of weeks, we have made a number of personnel moves that have reshaped our roster. I wanted to introduce you to them and give you a sense of what our plan has been, and continues to be, this summer.

Last season, we made significant strides on the ice, competing for a playoff spot until the month of March. It gave us a very good barometer for what we have and what we need to get to the next level. We are building a team identity based on competitiveness, reliability and being very difficult to play against. We also identified specific areas of need – a quality center, skill up front and puck moving defensemen – and have added players that will help in that regard.

We began the process at the draft with the trade for R.J. Umberger. We essentially acquired R.J. from Philadelphia for the first round pick we received in the Adam Foote trade. As most of you know, R.J. played at Ohio State and for Ken Hitchcock with the Flyers. He is 26-years-old and a big, strong forward who can play center or wing. He is coming off his best season in 2007-08 when he had 50 points during the regular season and was one of the top players in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 10 goals and 15 points in 17 games. We also feel very good about the players we were able to select at the draft. Nikita Filatov is an extremely dynamic offensive forward who has excelled playing with players older than him in Russia and was one of the stars of last year's World Junior Championships. We also added four defensemen among the nine players we selected in Ottawa who will provide organizational depth at that position.

Draft weekend was the first step in the process. The opening of free agency was the second. Last Tuesday, we added two players who fit perfectly within the identity of our team. Mike Commodore is a big, physical defensive defenseman who will play significant minutes for us against our opponent's best players. He has played in two Stanley Cup Finals, won a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006, won a World Championships gold medal playing for Canada with Rick Nash and Jason Chimera in 2007 and won an NCAA championship at North Dakota. He is a proven winner and a quality person who will be an important member of our organization on and off the ice.

The other player we added was Raffi Torres, who we acquired from the Edmonton Oilers for Gilbert Brule. Raffi is a hard-nosed player and a strong skater who has scored 20or more goals in two of his three full NHL seasons. He has the ability to change a game by either scoring a timely goal or delivering a big hit and was a major contributor to the Oilers' run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006.

On Wednesday, we traded Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Fritsche to the New York Rangers for defensemen Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman. Nikolai and Danny each made significant contributions to our team the past few years and I'm sure some of you might have questions as to why we made this deal. Championship teams are built from the backend out with goaltending and defense. Our inability to move the puck out of the defensive zone last year was a real problem for us and greatly hindered our ability to generate offense. Both Fedor and Christian will help in that area.

Fedor is a player who is extremely solid at both ends of the ice and a guy we have had our eyes on for some time. He was on the second power play unit in New York and we think he has some upside offensively. Christian is a finesse defenseman whose strength is his puck moving ability. Both of these guys are 6-3, 6-4 and 200-plus pounds, so their combination of size and skill will be a real plus for our blueline.

Late Wednesday night, we were able to add a very skilled offensive player in forward Kristian Huselius. He has great vision and hockey sense, has performed at very high level everywhere he's played and has a real knack for making plays from the wing. In six NHL seasons, he has scored 20 or more goals four times and had a career-high 34 with the Calgary Flames in 2006-07.

We promised you that we would work very hard and be very active this summer in efforts to improve our team. We made significant offers to some players we were not able to get, but I can assure you it wasn't for a lack of effort. That said we are very excited about what we have been able to accomplish so far.

Our work is not done.We will be looking to add another forward, preferably at the center position, at some point in the next several weeks. We will also continue to stay aware of any other opportunities that avail themselves to us that will allow us to improve our team.

On behalf of the Columbus Blue Jackets, I want you to know that we appreciate your commitment to our organization.

Scott Howson
General Manager
Columbus Blue Jackets

Really solid stuff from Scott there.

I'm not positive but I assume when he's talking about adding another center he's referring to Michael Peca.

I also believe the players he's referring to in terms of making offers but not getting them are Wade Redden and Brendan Morrison.

Interesting that Ken Hitchcock was on 1460 the fan yesterday and when asked about his lineup he said they are definitely still a little weak at center.

I think this is important because this leadership team is not blind. They aren't trying to sell Jan Hridna as a #1 center. They know they still aren't as strong down the middle as they'd like to be and I like the fact they aren't trying to sell it like they are.

They tried to address the #1 center void and there just wasn't a deal there to be made via trade or free agency. Lets face it there are only 15 to 17 true #1 centers in this league and teams win and make the playoffs without them.

Of course I as many of you wanted a #1 center but as a fan I'm glad we didn't trade the #6 overall pick for Patrick Marleau for instance. While Jokinen was appealing there is a reason why he went for so little on the trade market.

That said they know they improved many other areas of this team in terms of skill and all around competitiveness. With RJ they upgraded the middle of the ice. They are certainly taking a risk with Brassard but that risk has gone down with his performance in the AHL and with the quality of talent they have surrounded him with. Peca gives them a bit of insurance in that position and Huselius gives Nash a play making wing.

Certainly not ideal but *if* Brassard breaks out with a 40+ point campaign we'll be in very good shape for our first ever playoff run. At some point we are due right? I mean Patrick Kane throws up 70 points and Nicklas Backstrom - who went 2 spots ahead of Brassard in that '06 draft - threw up 69 points - both last year in their rookie seasons.

The Jackets are due for a breakout.

As Howson states in his letter he will continue to stay aware of any new opportunities that present themselves. We now know he isn't afraid to pull the trigger and be bold so if something is there that makes sense I'm sure he'll make a move.

For now though I wouldn't count on much more roster turnover. I think he gets Leclaire and Filatov signed over the next week and then lets the dust settle until camp.

Something else interesting that Hitch said during his interview -- he plans on sticking Nash-Umberger-Huselius together at camp and giving them all of preseason to work it out. I like that idea.



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