Thursday, September 27, 2012

Davidson to leave Blues

Team's President of Hockey Operations agrees
to buyout, announcement expected in coming days

ST. LOUIS -- When John Davidson took over as President of Hockey Operations in 2005, it was the 59-year-old's first task at trying to rebuild a proud franchise.

The Blues began the post 2004-05 lockout season with the worst record in the NHL (21-46-15) and Davidson, fresh from his analysts job with Madison Square garden television, was faced with a heck of a challenge.

Seven years later and the Blues being among the top teams in the NHL a season ago, Davidson and team have decided to part ways.
(Getty Images)
John Davidson has been the Blues' President of
Hockey Operations since 2006.

Multiple reports have surfaced that Davidson has been bought out of the remaining three years of his contract at an undisclosed amount. He had in excess of $6 million remaining on an extension he signed in 2011.

The Blues have yet to make a formal announcement but one is expected in the coming days.

Davidson became the lead man in the hockey operations department when the team was purchased by a group led by Dave Checketts. In essence, he became the face of a franchise that had become disconnected to a certain degree with its fans and a city that seemingly took a big hit following the lockout that cleaned out the 2004-05 season.

The team went from 30th in the NHL in 2005-06 to finishing with the second-most points in the league last season with 109 before bowing out in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to eventual champion Los Angeles.

But since the acquisition of the Blues by Summit Distributing CEO Tom Stillman and partners, it became known that the group would have to cut costs and make the Blues a workable franchise. Davidson's contract apparently helps alleviate some of the immediate burden.

Davidson was unavailable for comment Thursday but several players that skated Thursday informally appreciate Davidson's efforts to reconnect the franchise back to its fans.

"His savvy, his connections, his ability to connect with people is remarkable," Blues captain David Backes said. "He'll still have that wherever he goes or whatever endeavor he finds next. It'll be big shoes to fill for whoever tries to jump in them.

"The position that we're in now compared to when he got here the year before me and since I've been here, it's been phenomenal. It's definitely been aided by his work, his efforts ... not just the work he does around the arena but it's heartfelt with all the work he does with the animal rescue stuff. He's got the same sort of jungle running around his house that I do. It's sad to see him not be part of the Blues and the St. Louis community anymore, but a great man and hopefully we can find somebody that can pick up the slack."

Former Blue and current New Jersey Devil Cam Janssen was part of the lean years following the lockout and remembers what Davidson was able to do.

"He was unbelievable for this city," Janssen said. "He was an ambassador that came in and someone that this organization was basically striving for for a long time that could get the attention of the fans in the right way and bring them to the games and really promote the Bluenote basically like it's never been done before. He came in and kind of brought a whole new level of the fan base that I saw on a personal level.

"... Just an awesome guy, has played the game and understands it. What a great job he did in this town and it shows because you're on the bench and you look up in the stands and you see a packed house on a Monday night playing against Columbus, that just shows you. We weren't in first place, and we had a lot of young guys on the team, but JD promoted these young guys and kind of laid it out for the fans to see: here's what we've got, here's the talent we have and come watch us play. He did a great job on that because it definitely worked. At the time, St. Louis kind of dropped away from hockey there and he turned it around and it just blew up."

Davidson, known for his "Come Grow With Us" television spots, was a
first-round pick of the Blues in 1973, where he played in goal for two seasons before being traded to the Rangers, where he would finish out his abbreviated career before moving over to the Rangers' broadcast booth for the next three decades with Sam Rosen.

"There's a lot of guys that learned a lot from JD," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. ... It's tough to see a guy like that go. He's the one that brought me here. I know there's a few guys that have been here since he's been here, so it's a bit of a change for us.

"Any time you develop a relationship with somebody, it's tough to see him go, whether it's a player or someone in management."

Davidson reportedly met with the Columbus Blue Jackets this past summer regarding an undisclosed position but nothing ever came of the situation. Davidson was recently handling work on the business side of the franchise but could move back into broadcasting or take up a position somewhere else in the hockey operations department.

"A former player, I don't think he knew anything but to shoot straight and let guys know what was going on so that they can make an informed decision for themselves," Backes said of Davidson. "You can't ask for much more from management than that."

Under Davidson, the Blues have molded a surplus of talent, including Pietrangelo, Backes, T.J. Oshie and David Perron as well as No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson, as well as bring in experienced coaches like Ken Hitchcock and Andy Murray. He also helped acquire Alex Steen and Andy McDonald, among other moves under Davidson's time here.

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