The Blues that John Davidson took over in June of 2006 were as bad off as an organization could be. Stripped of talent like Chris Pronger, Pavol Demitra and Scott Mellanby, an annual contender had been turned into a 57 point disaster by the regime of Bill Laurie and Mark Sauer. The product on the ice was hideous, and that performance was reflected in an attendance drop of more than 4,000 per game.
Davidson came in and did things right. The Blues reconnected with their fans, holding season ticket holder forums and finding out what fans wanted most from their hockey team. (As it turned out, it was a hard working group). Davidson led the charge to cultivate a young fan base by making the organization accessible to youth hockey. The Blues would send their players out to meet and talk to teams throughout the metro area, and developed a great following among kids.
Davidson also made it a point to bring some old Blues back into the fold. Early in his tenure, the team retired Brett Hull’s number 16, and Hull has been visible with the club at least once a year since. He made sure the Blues Alumni group was organized and made to feel welcome, and they were. And, Davidson made sure that HE and his family settled here. He was sold on St. Louis.
As President, Davidson also oversaw a massive rebuilding project on the ice. When he arrived, the Blues were pretty much bereft of young talent. The organization’s mantra become “watch us grow,” and sure enough, the Blues drafted and brought along youngsters like Erik Johnson, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Alex Pietrangelo, Patrik Berglund, David Perron and Roman Polak.
When it became apparent that a player wasn’t going to work, he was moved for other assets. The Blues signed Lee Stempniak to a big contract, thinking he would be a consistent 25 goal scorer. When he showed that might not happen, the Blues sent him to Toronto for Alex Steen and Carlo Coliacovo. The Blues used a first round pick on forward Lars Eller. When they saw he had a low ceiling and more talented forwards than him were in the system, they dealt him for goalie Jaroslav Halak. And when the Blues decided that Johnson had maxed out his value, they shipped him to Colorado in a deal that brought back Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk.
I’ve been a Blues fan since I was a little kid. I started paying attention about five years into their existence, when I was ten years old. And from that time until Davidson arrived, the Blues never stuck with a plan. Do we go with the group in their prime of Phil Roberto, Garry Unger and Barclay Plager? No, we have to win NOW, so let’s get old veterans Glen Sather and Lou Angotti and Don Awrey. Ooops. That group won’t cut it. Let’s go with kids like Pierre Plante, Wayne Merrick and Lawrence Sacharuk. But that group is too young. Let’s switch to Chuck Lefley, Derek Sanderson, and get Red Berenson back.
That’s the way the Blues operated. Young. Old. In their prime. Free agency. Trades. It was a franchise that had a new plan pretty much every year, and never latched onto ONE until Davidson arrived and implemented his youth movement. Yes, there were hiccups. The signing of Paul Kariya didn’t go well. Giving Brad Boyes a big contract blew up in their faces, and Eric Brewer was never what the team said he was. But all in all, the franchise did well.
After a stellar 109 point season that grabbed the attention of St. Louis, the club was sold to Tom Stillman this summer. The guy who hired Davidson, Dave Checketts, ran out of money, or his investors ran out of patience, and he had to sell. Stillman and his group are not exceptionally well heeled, especially in the midst of a hockey lockout. And, to be honest, Davidson became a redundant expense. He hired a great general manager in Doug Armstrong, and they brought in a great coach in Ken Hitchcock. The franchise that Davidson fronted now has many faces, whether it be in the front office or on the ice. So, Stillman bought Davidson out of his contract.
I hope the Blues are stable enough to withstand losing Davidson. He’s a level headed, smart, intuitive person. When things go wrong, he understands how to fix them, and has the patience to fix them correctly. I know the expense of having J.D. on staff was prohibitive for the Blues, but I ask myself, are they a better organization without him?
There’s no way they can be. Hopefully, Davidson’s presence over the last six years has stabilized the franchise to the point that they don’t need him. With him there, they’ve gone from 57 points to 109. From an attendance average of 12,500 in his first year, Blues attendance has been right around 19,000 in each of the last three seasons. The front office is strong, and so is the product on the ice, and he’s the biggest reason.
When Davidson came here, he said one of the reasons he left the broadcast booth was that he had never won a Stanley Cup ring, and he wanted to experience that sensation with a team. I hope, when the Blues eventually DO win their Cup, that Davidson gets a ring and is at the party, because they wouldn’t be as good as they are had he not been hired in the first place.