ST. LOUIS -- The sale of the St. Louis Blues to a group led
by Dave Checketts was completed Friday, and the new owners
immediately named top NHL broadcaster John Davidson as team
Checketts, the former head of the New York Knicks and Madison
Square Garden, reached a deal to buy the team on March 24 and had
the sale approved by the NHL board of governors last week.
It transfers ownership of the Blues -- the league's worst team
this season -- and the Savvis Center from Bill and Nancy Laurie to
Checketts and his Sports Capital Partners.
Checketts said general manager Larry Pleau will be retained in
his present job, but Davidson added that coach Mike Kitchen was a
"candidate" to retain his job. Pleau and the rest of Blues
operations staff will report to Davidson.
"Larry Pleau has done a marvelous job through some very, very
trying times, and he's done a great job keeping this thing pointed
in the right direction," Davidson said. "It's obvious they had a
very good draft day."
Checketts represented the team last weekend at the NHL draft
when the Blues chose American defenseman Erik Johnson with the
first overall pick.
Davidson became the league's primary color analyst after an
11-year NHL career as a goalie with the Blues and New York Rangers.
His friendship with Checketts and familiarity with the Blues were
keys to his decision to change jobs.
"It's a gigantic move, and it's one that had to be perfect for
me," Davidson said. "It is because the owners are people I know
and have known for a long time. And I know St. Louis."
Several dozen former Blues players have never left town.
Davidson, who played for the Blues in 1973 and 1974, said he will
purchase a home in St. Louis.
"I loved my two years here," Davidson said. "Now the circle
goes around, and I'm thrilled about it."
Davidson joined MSG Network full time in 1986, three years after
his retirement as a player, to work Rangers games following a brief
departure to Canada. He has worked alongside partner Sam Rosen ever
Davidson expanded his work to network television in the United
States, working five Olympics on CBS and NBC. He was also the lead
hockey analyst as the NHL's network package shifted between ABC,
FOX and NBC.
He was also a part of coverage on ESPN and on "Hockey Night in
Canada" telecasts on CBC.
The Ontario native was chosen by St. Louis in the first round of
the 1973 draft and was traded to the Rangers after two seasons.
With Checketts in charge in New York, the Knicks reached the NBA
finals in 1994 and 1999. Now he will try to fix the Blues, who fell
from the top 10 in the league in attendance to the bottom five
during their dismal season -- the first following the NHL lockout.
The Blues finished last in the NHL this past season, ending a
run of 25 consecutive playoff appearances. The Lauries drastically
slashed payroll in order to facilitate a sale.
They announced plans to sell the Blues 10 months before reaching
the deal with Checketts, claiming they lost millions of dollars
since buying the club in 1999.
The Checketts group inherits a team light on first-line talent
with forward Keith Tkachuk the major holdover after the Blues
picked up a $3.8 million option after the end of the season.
Two of the players the Blues traded, forward Doug Weight and
defenseman Chris Pronger, ended up in the Stanley Cup finals.
Weight helped the Carolina Hurricanes win the Cup, and Pronger was
a key player in the Edmonton Oilers' surprise run to Game 7 of the
finals after entering the playoffs as the eighth seed in the
Conceivably, both players could return. Weight is an
unrestricted free agent and Pronger has requested a trade because
of his wife's reported dissatisfaction with Edmonton.
"It's not the appropriate time," Davidson said. "Certainly,
we know both players had a great playoff run, and time will tell."
Both Checketts and Davidson said they would rebuild the
franchise with youth as the foundation. Checketts said it was
premature to discuss payroll.
"We've been so focused on the closing, we really need to
evaluate what it will take," Checketts said. "We're not there
yet. This is less about dollars than about attitude, and we will do
what we need to do to bring a championship."