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John Davidson continues forging a path to hockey glory

By Tom

[We interrupt the scheduled "Parting Thoughts" post for the Western Conference's Central Division to offer a few thoughts on the Columbus Blue Jackets news of the day.]

By his actions, it's clear that Davidson didn't come to Columbus just to golf.

I’ve got this theory about why John Davidson took over the Columbus Blue Jackets’ hockey operations, and I’d like to share it with you for I think it sheds a little light on what he’s doing here in Central Ohio.

Davidson is 60 years old.  He played for ten NHL seasons (1973-83), being the first goalie to jump straight from the Canadian major junior program to the NHL.  He took the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals.  Was he the best goalie ever?  Probably not, but he was a good one.

Upon retirement from the NHL, “JD” then took up broadcasting.  Starting with Rangers coverage, he worked his way into the booth and then proceeded to call national games for pretty much every network that carried the NHL from 1990 through 2006.  Was he the best commentator ever?  Arguably yes, as he has a Foster Hewitt Memorial Award (recognizing his contributions to broadcasting) from the Hockey Hall of Fame sitting on his mantle.

Then, in 2006, he took over the hockey operations for the St. Louis Blues.  The Blues were dismally bad, and his efforts left the team in infinitely better shape than when he started.  But ownership changed, and Davidson’s contract was bought out.  Was he the best hockey executive ever?  I think it fair to say JD gets an “incomplete” for his work in St. Louis.

Which brings us to Columbus, and my theory.  If you were not aware, JD was looking at broadcasting options when he took the Blue Jackets job.  It’s a worthwhile debate to consider which job would be more strenuous – supervising a team of executives for a hockey franchise (and performing the public relations work that he does so well) or call hockey games at least once a week.  The hockey job probably was a little more work up front as he put his stamp on the team both in front of and behind the curtain, but it surely will taper off as his people do the work of making his vision a reality.  The broadcasting job would have been reasonably steady throughout the seasons, just like the flow of NHL games.

I’m sure Davidson was well-compensated for taking the CBJ role, and I gather that he loves the creature comforts that Columbus provides for his entire family.  I don’t want to diminish the role that other factors like those played in his choosing the Blue Jackets over TV.  Still, I think that there’s more at play.

I think that John Davidson wants to ascend to the upper echelons of hockey history.  Simply put, I think he wants his face on hockey’s Mount Rushmore.  I also think that he knows that going back to television wasn’t going to get him there  - he scaled that mountain already – but being The Man in a turnaround of one of the worst-performing (on-ice, I mean) franchises in the NHL since 2000 very well could.  A Stanley Cup win or two certainly would put him in strong contention.  It probably would have been the same way in St. Louis, but the plug was pulled before he could finish the job.

So here we are in mid-August in Columbus, Ohio.  Davidson has switched his top hockey personnel staff by having Jarmo Kekalainen replacing Scott Howson.  He’s shuffling the deck in the scouting department.  He’s harvesting the season ticket holders.  He’s ingratiating himself with the community by slapping down the national hockey media blowhards who can’t understand why any hockey player would want to come to Columbus.

And then he (and Kekalainen) pulls a rabbit out of his hat this week.  The Blue Jackets announced that they have lured former agent Bill Zito into the CBJ front office as an assistant general manager.  To me, this was a jaw-dropper.  The agent for the likes of Tukka Rask and Valterri Filppula walked away from his clients to take a third-rung job (JD at the top, Jarmo in second seed) here in Columbus.

Really?  Super agent chooses to turn into assistant general manager for the CBJ?  To borrow the kid’s catchphrase, Is this real life?

It is, my friend, and Zito did just that.  And if I had to guess, JD had something to do with it.  Sure, Kekalainen’s Finnish heritage and Zito’s Finn-centric client list helped, if not drove, the deal.  But JD’s the closer.  People gravitate toward working for people with whom they want to be associated, and people of substance apparently want to be on JD’s team.  Why not take full advantage of the fact?

Just as JD built his team of Doug Armstrong, Kekalainen and others in St. Louis, he’s doing the same with Kekalainen, Zito et al here in Columbus.  But this time, I’m thinking he’s planning on taking the team all the way to the promised land…and perhaps will reach a level of hockey immortality that few can fathom.

[The background I offer in this post on Davidson was cribbed from his Wikipedia page.]

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