It’s been a story lingering under the radar, relatively speaking, but the combination of the ongoing NHL lockout and circumstance brings it right into focus. So let’s talk about it.
Meet John Davidson
John Davidson, the guy who managed the transition from an award-winning career in the broadcast booth to the front office infinitely better than…well, this guy (no, I’m not too bitter…), has been released from his obligations as president of the St. Louis Blues.
Before we dig too deep into the Columbus Blue Jackets angle on this, let’s peruse his six-year run in that other “arch” city:
- Hired in the wake of the last lockout, Davidson – also known as “J.D.” – inherited a 21-46-15 (57 points) team in St. Louis…the worst team in the NHL at the time.
- Davidson hired Doug Armstrong upon Armstrong’s release as Dallas Stars’ general manager (where the Stars only had a 210–109–35–23 record under Armstrong). Armstrong hired in as director of player personnel and was the Blues’ general manager within two seasons. Armstrong won the NHL’s General Manager of the Year award in 2012.
- Dissatisfied with a 6-7-0 start to the 2011-12 season, Davidson replaced head coach Davis Payne with former Blue Jackets bench boss (and later, team advisor) Ken Hitchcock. Hitchcock coached the Blues to a 43-15-11 finish, good enough to position the team in first place in both the Central Division and second seed in the Eastern Conference. The Blues won their first-round series and then exited the playoffs in the subsequent round. For his efforts, Hitchcock was awarded the 2012 Jack Adams Award for NHL coach of the year.
- Personnel-wise, the Blues’ website has this to say about J.D.: “Since his arrival, Davidson has been involved in the acquisitions of Andy McDonald, Alex Steen, Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk while continuing to develop a solid young team.”
- Davidson’s last Blues team, the 2011-12 edition, was 49-22-11, a 109-point campaign. For those keeping score, that’s 52 points better than the team he inherited.
Blues captain David Backes doesn’t sound like he’s happy that the team bought out J.D.’s contract:
“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.”
When one combines the demonstrated track record with the genuine sense of loss expressed by his top player, the picture becomes clear. John Davidson appears to be a beloved hockey guy who assembled a terrific team of management leaders over time and shepherded the team to a level that any Blue Jackets fan would die to see. He made the Blues into a winner.
How the Blue Jackets fit into this
Before J.D. was bought out, his contract apparently allowed him a period in June to interview with other teams due to the change in ownership of the Blues. During that period, he interviewed with the Blue Jackets. Davidson said that the Blue Jackets were the only interview he had at the time.
Now, he’s back on the market. And guess who’s apparently back in the mix:
And while Davidson isn’t closing his doors with anyone at this time – Can we presume both hockey operations and broadcasting options will be in the mix? – he has expressed an appreciation for the Blue Jackets that can only be characterized as encouraging:
“If (my next stop) is Columbus,” Davidson said, “I can tell you this: That hockey club is better than the one we took over in St. Louis. That club was way, way down the ladder. But this Blue Jackets team is not that far off. There are some pieces there to work with, absolutely. They’ve got some real players there.”
Draw your own conclusions, my friends.
If the Blue Jackets want Davidson, they can’t afford not to have him
Now, to the subject of this post: If the Blue Jackets want John Davidson, they should aggressively go and get him. Period.
Let’s start with the the “If” part of this discussion. I don’t personally know if the team wants John Davidson, but it appears that they are interested in exploring the possibility further. If it winds up that the team does its due diligence and decides that, for whatever reason, it’s not a good fit, then stop reading right here. There’s not much more to say.
If the team does want Davidson, however, there’s a little more to talk about. As my compadre Gallos has so eloquently stated over at the other blog (here, here and here), Davidson would be a terrific choice to lead the Columbus Blue Jackets. Based on the brief recap above, I’ll echo his sentiments as they related to J.D.
I’ll take it a step further: I can think of many, many teams in many, many sports that have reached their respective pinnacle through top-flight management teams. I also can think of a few teams that appear to have nabbed a championship in spite of their executive leadership, but the number of the latter is miniscule in comparison to the former. (In the interest of grounding the discussion in reality, I suggest we exempt this team and this team from consideration.) So when a proven winner is out there, and you decide you want them because you want to win, you hire them before someone else does.
I’ve gathered that a major objection to the hiring of a presumably expensive executive like Davidson is…you guessed it, money. This argument somewhat makes sense insofar as the NHL lockout has already seen ticket revenue-deprived teams slashing hours and pay for the staff that survive any layoffs. It seems counter-intuitive to bring in a big-ticket executive when the rank and file are sweating their personal bills. I get that. But this is big-time sports, and I’ll suggest that if the NHL owners wouldn’t have deprived their fans of hockey if they really cared about optics. Owners care about winning…at the negotiation table as well as on the ice. Through that lens, it makes perfect sense to spend the money…if the investment is deemed worth it.
(Permit a small digression: I am convinced that the current Blue Jackets ownership has demonstrated that it wants to win by committing itself to spending to the salary cap at the outset of the 2011-12 season despite a revenue picture that did not support the move. These guys want to win. It might not be materializing on the ice, but the intent is evident. OK, back to J.D.)
The USA Today article suggests that J.D.’s buyout terminated the final three years of his contract, which was valued at $6 million. That’s $2 million a year. $2 million is a smidgen more than Derek Dorsett or Sergei Bobrovsky’s annual salaries. It’s not a deal-breaking number, especially when you consider that the current going rate for a bottom-six forward like Dorsett could get you an executive could provide more hockey knowledge and, by extension, credibility than this team has ever had. Period.
If you don’t buy the “J.D.’s worth it” argument by itself, try this on: Great executive leadership can deliver a more competitive team with less salary money expended. With the right guy at the top, teams get more bang for their payroll dollar. As such, it’s worth drawing down the team’s salary budget by the $2 million or whatever Davidson’s asking to accommodate his salary. Consider this (and I’m drawing from CapGeek’s 2011-12 salary numbers for this discussion):
- The Blue Jackets spent $61.3 million on salaries in 2011-12 and got 65 standings points for their investment.
- The St. Louis Blues, saddled with a Davidson contract that bled them for $2 million, spent $54.9 million on player salaries and took their 109 points to the second round of the playoffs.
That’s right, the Blues spent $4.4 million less than the Blue Jackets – and I’ve included Davidson’s salary on the Blues side of the ledger when making this comparison - and yielded 44 more points and 4 more playoff wins than Columbus.
Need a couple more reasons to hire the best executives?
How about considering Nashville, where the Predators spent only $52.2 million and got 5 playoff wins for their trouble? Their president of hockey operations/general manager, David Poile, was only a finalist for the 2012 NHL General Manager of the Year Award that Davidson’s man, Doug Armstrong, won.
Or what about the Florida Panthers, whose executive vice president/general manager and 2012 NHL General Manager of the Year Award finalist, Dale Tallon, steered his $55.4 million salaried team to three playoff wins in only his second year on the job in South Beach? (Don’t forget, Tallon also helped position the Chicago Blackhawks toward a Stanley Cup before moving along. His personnel investments weren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but he built the foundation of the championship team.)
Does anyone need additional reasons why spending good money on good executives is worth the investment?
Wrapping it all up
If they decide that J.D. is their man, they need to give him an offer that he can’t refuse, move him into Columbus and get him started in earnest as soon as possible. The lockout is the perfect time to fine-tune the front office, for an extended operational downtime is a perfect time to conduct an honest assessment of an organization and ensure that the team comes roaring out of the gates once the new collective bargaining agreement is reached.