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Friday, September 28, 2012
Davidson's upbeat attitude helped revive Blues

By Scott Burnside

We recall being on a training camp tour in the fall of 2008 when news broke that St. Louis Blues’ franchise defenseman Erik Johnson had injured his knee in a pre-training-camp golf cart incident.

On the phone, president and longtime NHLer and broadcaster John Davidson candidly expressed his disappointment at the blow to Johnson, the former No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and to the snake-bitten Blues who had endured a prolonged stretch of bad luck when it came to injuries to key personnel.

But at the same time, Davidson remained perpetually upbeat about the team to which he’d come in June two years earlier, in 2006, when former MSG executive Dave Checketts led a group that purchased the Blues.

That was Davidson’s way. He gave you the straight goods. But he always found a way to find something positive to hang on to, regardless of the situation.

After Tom Stillman emerged as the new owner of the franchise last spring, changes at the top were expected, and the ripple effect reached Davidson this week as sources confirmed that he and the team had reached a separation agreement and he would leave the team.

The Blues have covered the equivalent of a million miles in recent years, and if you’re looking for one person who symbolizes that often-difficult organizational journey, it would be Davidson.

Although many wondered exactly what the longtime broadcaster was going to do when he moved to the front office six years ago, he emerged as a central figure in rebuilding a fractured relationship between fans and the organization. After the lockout, the team floundered and fans stayed away. Yet Davidson became the voice of the franchise, preaching patience and optimism, even in the face of disappointing setbacks.

Slowly, the relationship with fans was repaired, and the trust fans showed as the team built through the draft and shrewd trades was rewarded with a significant jump forward on the evolutionary track.

Having brought in Doug Armstrong as a successor to longtime Blues GM Larry Pleau, the team hired Ken Hitchcock to replace Davis Payne as the team’s head coach just 13 games into the regular season. The team responded and enjoyed a stellar season, surprisingly winning a Central Division title and finishing with the second-best record in the Western Conference. Although they were bounced by the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings in the second round, many observers believe that when hockey returns the Blues will again be among the top teams in the conference.

If so, they will do it without Davidson at the helm.

Maybe it will make a difference, maybe not.

Already there are rumors that former Blues star and Hall of Famer Brett Hull is being wooed for some sort of front-office position with the Blues, although nothing had materialized as of Friday morning.

The Blues are well-positioned with Armstrong and Hitchcock guiding an on-ice product that features emerging stars Alex Pietrangelo and T.J. Oshie; top-flight talent like U.S. Olympian David Backes, Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott and Andy McDonald; and top rookie Vladimir Tarasenko.

One thing seems certain: Davidson won’t be idle long, unless he chooses to be.

The much-decorated broadcaster was linked to a front-office job with the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets in the offseason. Teams looking for a smart hockey man with an easygoing personality will be lining up to try to make Davidson part of their organization now that he’s a free agent.