Saturday, October 6, 2012

Blues, Davidson officially part ways

Team's President of Hockey Operations can walk away with head held high

ST. LOUIS -- John Davidson and the Blues are parting ways, probably sooner than the 59-year-old had hoped or expected.

Davidson, the Blues' President of Hockey Operations since 2006, has mutually agreed to a buyout of the remaining three years of his contract, which still had roughly $6 million remaining on it. He originally agreed to a four-year, $8 million extension in the summer of 2010.

Terms of the buyout were not disclosed, and Davidson said he has no immediate plans regarding his future.

(Getty Images)
The Blues went from the bottom of the NHL to
being among the top teams last season in John
Davidson's seven-year tenure  as President of
Hockey Operations.

Often times in these circumstances, when parties go their own separate ways typically means the two sides only agree that they're better off without each other. However this situation is the exception to the rule.

Davidson was hired by the previous ownership group, led by Dave Checketts, on June 30, 2006 to revitalize a franchise that had seemingly become disconnected with its fan base.

The Blues were fresh off a last place finish in the NHL (21-46-15) coming out of a lockout year, and Davidson instantly became the face of the franchise.

But with economic times tough on many of the smaller market franchises around the league, the Blues have been forced to reduce costs after reportedly losing $20 million a season ago, and new chairman Tom Stillman, who led a group in purchasing the team from Checketts this past summer, had to make concessions somewhere along the line.

Davidson understands the Blues are in a financial situation where costs need to be cut, and unfortunately, his contract was one area that needed to be eliminated.

"There's no animosity at all," Davidson said. "When you see new ownership purchasing something like a sports club, there's always going to be change. Tom and I have had a number of discussions. It took a while, but we found some common ground in our discussions ... we chatted about expenses and contracts and we just came to a conclusion that my contract would be a burden on the club. We worked something out where we're both satisfied with. It takes the burden off the team financially. It allows me to find something somewhere else, depending on what I want to do.

"It's just business. It is. It's a tough time to leave. We really enjoy St. Louis, very much so in every aspect."

Stillman acknowledged that this has nothing to do with Davidson's work. It was all about economics.
"He has done a great job here, so it’s certainly nothing about his work," Stillman said. "But, as you know, we are working to get our business, our financial house in order. We feel the organization was bloated and our expenses were way out of line. And we have to marshal our resources so that we can focus on continuing to put a winning, contending team on the ice. That’s what this is all about.

"The management team recognizes all of that, including JD. And JD is a good man, a real professional, a true Blue. So he worked with us like a pro, and I think we arrived at something that helps the Blues franchise and is fair to everyone involved. I salute him for working it out in a way that helps the Blues. JD is a good man."

When John Davidson took over, it was a task of trying to rebuild a proud franchise.

Davidson, fresh from his television analyst job with Madison Square Garden, was faced with a tremendous challenge.

Seven years later, the Blues are among the league's best after a season ago finishing with 49 wins. They did it by building from within and going with one of Davidson's famous lines of "Come grow with us," which he used to help lure Blues fans back into the building.

"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."

The team went from the bottom of the NHL to finishing with the second-most points in the league last season (109) before bowing out in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to eventual champion Los Angeles. During his tenure, the Blues made two postseason appearances (2009, 2012), won the Central Division championship a season ago and experienced a revival in the community that saw their average attendance rise from 12,520 (30th) in 2006-07 to 18,809 (9th) in 2011-12.

"We went through where we had 6,000 people in the building for a long time, but they were the best 6,000 you'll ever find, because they were there through the thick and the thin," Davidson said. "They stayed with us and the crowds grew."

Davidson, who was a goalie during his playing career, was a first-round pick of the Blues in 1973, where he played for two seasons before being traded to the Rangers. He would finish out his abbreviated career there 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 Blues 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 met with the Columbus Blue Jackets over the summer regarding an undisclosed position but nothing ever came of that situation. It's the only opportunity that has opened up outside the Blues organization to this point. And whatever lies ahead for Davidson, he doesn't know at this point.

"I don't know. I really don't know," he said. "I've talked to Columbus once, with permission, and it was a good discussion. Other than that, I haven't talked to anyone.

"I'm not saying anything in any aspect yet, whether it be television or management or whatever. I'm just going to try to discover whatever I try to do next (and) it won't be retirement. It'll be the right thing for myself and my family."

Under Davidson, the Blues have molded a surplus of talent, including drafting Pietrangelo, Backes, T.J. Oshie and David Perron as well as No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson. The Blues also acquired notable players Alex Steen, Andy McDonald, Jaroslav Halak, Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart and the right to trade for a draft pick in which the Blues took Vladimir Tarasenko, as well as brought in experienced coaches like Ken Hitchcock and Andy Murray.

Davidson can walk away with his head held high despite not being here for the climax.

"Now, it's got a chance," Davidson said of the Blues' chances of succeeding. "This club is standing at third base and you see home plate. You've got to get to home plate. This team's got a shot at it. I feel very proud of that, being a part of a group that put that together.

"I'm going to be a big fan, I'm going to watch because I know how hard they're going to be to beat now. It'll be interesting to see where they go. They're in good hands. Doug will do a good job. I just hope the puck gets dropped pretty soon because this team's ready to go. The coaching staff's an excellent staff, it's a great staff. ... This is a complete organization. It's solid. I like that it's in a great place. It's got a shot to be in the upper echelon. You have a window that's open for a certain time, and the window is wide open for this club now. We'll see where it goes. I feel very proud to be a part of that group."

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