Jackets close to finalizing deal with Oilers assistant Howson

After a long and somewhat strange search for a new general manager, the Columbus Blue Jackets are in the final stages of negotiations to name Edmonton Oilers assistant GM Scott Howson to their vacant position.

Barring any breakdowns in the talks, the Blue Jackets could make a formal announcement as early as Thursday and probably no later than Friday.

Howson emerged as a lead candidate after Ducks assistant GM Bob Murray decided to withdraw his name from consideration on June 4. Previously, Murray had been viewed as the club's top choice to replace Doug MacLean, who was fired in April after six straight losing seasons. When Murray decided to stay with the Stanley Cup champions, the Jackets scrambled to find other candidates.

Howson, 47, came to Columbus for an extensive interview late last week. And, according to The Columbus Dispatch, the club spent two days looking into his background and checking his references. Those references must have been very good because there's very little history of NHL success on his résumé.

The Toronto native, who played briefly with the Islanders in the 1980s, joined the Oilers as an assistant to the GM in June 2000. A year later, he was promoted to assistant GM. During his six seasons in Edmonton, the Oilers failed to qualify for the playoffs three times, including this past season when they fell apart down the stretch after dealing star forward Ryan Smyth to the Islanders at the trade deadline.

Last season, as the West's eighth seed, the Oilers made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup finals, losing in Game 7 to the eventual champion Hurricanes in Raleigh. Those playoff series victories were the club's first since 1998.

If you're looking to connect the dots between Howson and Blue Jackets coach/Edmonton native Ken Hitchcock, check out the bio of Oilers scout Bob Brown. Hitchcock and Brown worked together at Kamloops of the Western Hockey League in the late 1980s. Brown was the general manager and Hitchcock was the coach of that very successful junior franchise. It makes sense to think Brown would have recommended Howson to Hitchcock, who clearly had a lot of input during this GM search.

E.J. Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com. Also, click here to send E.J. a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.