Then and now: Davidson changes the culture
It takes good players, a dedicated coaching staff and a wise general manager to produce a winning hockey club.
It takes an organization and a loyal community of fans to establish a culture of winning.
Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards once said: "Anything that’s successful starts at the top. It starts with a belief and an expectation. Then, they live it every day and you become the team that you want to be.”
John Davidson has twice been put at the top of a club to change the tide and create a new team identity from the bottom-up.
Davidson was named president of hockey operations for the St. Louis Blues prior to the 2006-07 season. What awaited Davidson was a 21-win team, new ownership and a frustrated organization and fan base. Prior to the 2004-05 lockout, the Blues had qualified for 25 consecutive Stanley Cup playoffs and while the franchise had not advanced further than the conference finals during that stretch, it was up to Davidson to return the franchise to winning form.
“We had to be patient, we had to ask the fans to be patient,” Davidson told BlueJackets.com. “There are no shortcuts. There is no way that you will get to a position where you’ll have an opportunity to try to win the (Stanley) Cup unless you go through that pain because of where we started.”
Knowing well that the rebuilding process would take several years to complete, Davidson placed an emphasis on accumulating first-round selections. He did so despite exterior demands to trade young players and picks in exchange for established players who could immediately carry St. Louis to the playoffs.
“Wouldn’t do it, wasn’t going to happen,” Davidson said.
Slowly but surely, the Blues began to improve. They won 34 games in Davidson’s first season in charge, 13 more than the season prior, followed by a 33-win season and a 41-win season that landed the Blues in the postseason. St. Louis’ immediate success surpassed Davidson’s expectations and he gave credit to ownership and then-head coach Andy Murray for getting the most out of his players.
The Blues have qualified for the last three Stanley Cup playoffs and while Davidson was not a member of the organization for the last two runs, he remains proud of the foundation that he built for the franchise to grow and become a perennial power in a difficult Western Conference.
“We took the task, and it was probably worse than we thought it was,” Davidson said. “I can look back at that and know we did it the right way.”
And when Davidson arrived in Columbus, a similar task was at hand -- to change the culture.
Davidson already possessed the experience needed to rebuild a franchise, but he admitted that the Blue Jackets were in much better shape than the Blues when he started in St. Louis.
Davidson was impressed by the McConnell ownership group and the “brick by brick” philosophy by which the Blue Jackets were run. He saw each individual in the organization playing a vital role in pushing the franchise forward with no half-hearted efforts from anyone in any department of the organization.
“There needed to be trust rebuilt to try to get the team back into the mind of everybody in the community,” Davidson said, noting that this included fans and corporate partners.
On the ice, Columbus’ young prospects were an enticing pull for Davidson to take the job.
Current Blue Jackets regulars like Ryan Johansen, Ryan Murray, Dalton Prout and Boone Jenner were in the system and the future looked bright. Developing prospects, along with other trades and free agent signings, propelled the Jackets further in Davidson’s first two years, as compared to his first two years with St. Louis.
And coupled with Davidson's no-nonsense approach to teamwork and the requisite attitude to be a Blue Jacket, there has been an undeniable impact.
“If you don’t know your seat on the bus here, you can go play somewhere else. Simple as that,” Davidson said. “We’re going to be a franchise that we want to be respected. We do things the right way. If you don’t like it, you don’t want to be here, we’ll be very happy to ship you out of town.”
The first two years of Davidson’s tenure have brought growth and excitement to the Blue Jackets. The team is respected league-wide as a legitimate threat and the fan base showed its
ability to create deafening environments.
As such, the expectations are high and the bar has been set in Columbus.
“When you’re in, who knows what happens, but we expect to be in the playoffs.”