Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Blues, Davidson agree to contract extension

Team president's current contract was to expire at end
of June; four-year deal in place despite ownership questions

ST. LOUIS -- With the Blues' ownership situation up in the air, John Davidson had a decision to make.

The Blues' president likes what he sees, and he wants to continue to be a part of the building process.

Davidson's contract was all set to expire at the end of June. His five-year term after being hired by Dave Checketts as the Blues' team president was coming to a close.

And with an impending change in ownership for the Blues as a looming factor, there were questions whether Davidson would continue on in his current position.

Davidson laid those questions to rest Tuesday when the Blues and Davidson reached agreement on a contract extension, with a source indicating that it is for four years.

Davidson, 58, was about to finish up a $10 million contract but an extension has been in place for some time. Putting the finishing touches on the new deal was apparently put on hold while Checketts and his company, Sports Capital Partners Worldwide, were in the process of putting the Blues up for sale.

That debate is now a moot point.

"John was our first hire as an ownership group" Checketts said in a statement. "We believed then and still believe now in his ability to rekindle the passion of the Blues in St. Louis .

"Along the way John has played a lead role in helping to rebuild the St. Louis Blues both on and off the ice. He became the face of the franchise at a time when it was dearly needed and his hands have been on the wheel steering it in the right direction ever since. ... The Blues are now well positioned for long term success."

Davidson, a goaltender who the Blues chose in the first round in 1973, and his contract will now go along with the price tag that the franchise will have for a prospective new owner. But if the team is sold to a group led by local businessman Tom Stillman, the team's current minority owner who apparently has made the only offer for the franchise thus far, that won't be a problem.

Stillman has previously endorsed the job Davidson and management have done guiding this franchise.

For Davidson, the time was right.

"For me, it's a case of enjoying the city of St. Louis, my family really enjoys it," Davidson said. "That plays into it, no question.

"Wherever the ownership thing goes, for me, it's more about the team. I like where we're sitting. I like the direction we've gone. I like the acquisitions we've made. I like the future that I sense we're getting close to. I want to be a part of that. We've gone through a lot of pain here over the years and we've made gains. We're not where we want to be obviously, but we're getting closer and I have a good feeling about this group."

Under Davidson's guidance, the Blues have only qualified for the playoffs once but they have assembled quite a cast of young talent through drafting, free agency and trades, they've seen attendance rise in each of Davidson's five seasons -- they sold out all 41 games this past season -- and they've rejuvenated fan interest. Davidson's also entrusted the guidance behind the bench to one who was groomed within the organization in current head coach Davis Payne.

"We've found a way to get as many talented kids as we could," Davidson said. "And in turn, we've been able to make a couple deals because of it. It includes Erik (Johnson), it includes the (Jaroslav) Halak deal.

"We're trying to find a way to continue to tweak this lineup by finding ways to get itself to the next level. We're working at that. We're a team that's built from within. Our fans have had a great opportunity to come see us grow as a group. I think they've enjoyed that. They're striving for results like we are, too. I think we're in a position to do some good things."

Davidson's ultimate goal is obviously a Stanley Cup, which would be the franchise's first, but there have been some bumpy decisions along the way (free agent contracts to Paul Kariya and Jay McKee as well as the dismissal of coaches Mike Kitchen and Andy Murray to name a few). But overall, it's evident the Blues are making the necessary strides in the difficult National Hockey League.

"I think when you look back, you look back with an open mind (wondering) what could you have done better," Davidson said. "Certainly there's things in the world of sports that you can always do better. There's nothing that's pure. There's nothing that's exact.

"The team has made strides both off the ice and on the ice. The fans have a real good, strong feeling about this group. I like the way our players over the years have reconnected with the city. ... We have a long road trip to go on. When I first got here, there weren't a lot of people in the building. The people that were in the building were great. There was not a lot of anything, so we've worked at it and worked at it and worked at it. Obviously, you try and make intelligent moves. Some work, some don't and you learn from them. We've stayed with our game plan, and in doing so, I think we've put ourselves in position to take that next step, and I feel good about it."

Davidson will stay the course and continue to build upon the game plan that he and management feel is important to get this hockey club where it needs to go.

"The biggest challenge and what I've learned most is to stay with the plan that you've devised," Davidson said. "In turn, a lot of times you have an opportunity to make short-term gains that are going to hurt you in the long-term. We stayed away from that.

"The patience level, it's hard, especially those early years. Some of those early games, we weren't even in some games. Now I see us play and we're in all these games with an opportunity to win. The old days, that just wasn't happening. ... We started at 30th (in the league) and I respect all those players that came through here. Most of them are gone. They did their part in trying to get us in a position where we can move forward. Now I feel when we come to camp this season, we should have a chance to play with anyone in this league, and I like that."

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