John Davidson has spent his life in hockey as a goaltender, a coach and a commentator, but in joining the front office of the St. Louis Blues as team president in June 2006, he brought his career full circle.
It was St. Louis which made Davidson the No. 5 pick in the 1973 NHL Draft, and he promptly became the first goalie to make the jump from junior hockey straight to the NHL, playing two seasons for the Blues before being traded to the New York Rangers, where he finished out his playing career and later served as a broadcaster for the MSG Network.
"Hindsight tells me I should never have done that, I should have paid a little more dues in the minors and learned about pro life, etc.," Davidson said, appearing as a guest on Thursday's "NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman."
"My first season was good, real good, until I blew a knee late in the season and missed the last six weeks -- that was the same year that Denis Potvin won the rookie of the year," he said. "And then, the second season I played so well that I got traded to the Rangers after the season -- that's how good I went for the Blues. I really struggled, I had a tough year."
Davidson's career ended by the age of 29 due to knee and back injuries, but not before he led the Rangers to the 1979 Stanley Cup Final, where they became the final victim of the Montreal Canadiens' dynasty of four straight championships.
These days, he's overseeing a resurgence in the "Show-Me State," as the Blues have overcome a slow start and the firing of coach Davis Payne to go 13-3-4 under his replacement, Ken Hitchcock, and move into the top eight in the Western Conference, just six points out of first.
"There's no limit" to what the Blues can accomplish this season, Davidson said. "If we can stay reasonably healthy -- and actually, what people don't realize, I think we're fourth in the League with most games missed due to injury, because (David) Perron missed quite a few and Andy McDonald's still out, etc.
"We're hanging in there. We're well-coached, we've got good goaltending, we're very good 5-on-5, we're very good at keeping the puck out of the net. Our power play stinks, nothing short of that, and it's got to get better and I think it will. If we can get that better, we're going to be pretty good. I really think, for the first time since I've been here, our team goes into games expecting to get points in the standings instead of hoping to, and that's a good feeling."
St. Louis made the playoffs in Davidson's second year on the job but missed them each of the past two seasons, making it five dry springs in six years since the work stoppage. When the team started off at 6-7-0 the decision was made to change coaches -- and Hitchcock, whose resume included back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances in Dallas, including a title in 1999, was an easy choice for the job.
"We were looking at a homestand and we knew that if we didn't do well on that homestand we were going to be in (a) tough (situation)," Davidson said. "We had to make sure we were going to do well on that homestand. So we decided to make the change, and by far the guy out there with the best resume was Ken. So we made the change, maybe got lucky to a degree -- and I'm going to say this because I firmly believe this, Davis Payne is going to be a good coach along the way. It's just that we had to make the change for our own situation."
Making those sorts of tough decisions is just part of the job description for Davidson, who described life as a hockey executive.
"When you're in television, when the game's over you can go home and start your homework for your next game or else take the summer off," he said. "Here, you don't get away from it. … You get curveballs every day. Every single day you're going to get a curveball. And it could be anything imaginable, anything out there that's possible can happen to a member or something to do with your franchise -- not just sending somebody up and down to the minors, not just trading for someone, but there's real-life issues that you deal with, and that's been very, very interesting."
Taking over an organization that had made the playoffs every year from 1980-2004 -- the third-longest streak in North American professional sports history -- but had entered a down period presented its own unique challenges.
"The tough part in St. Louis getting here was -- I knew we were in 30th when we got here, so last in the League, and we had to try to rebuild the proper way, but I didn't know we also had to work to reconnect with the Blues through the city itself, and that had distanced itself," Davidson said.
"But that's all back and in order, we have good crowds. Our team, through our patience of trying to build this the one way, and that's primarily through the draft with some trades, we've gotten it going pretty well. And I think we're here to stay. I think it's always going to be tough to make the playoffs in the Western Conference or the Eastern Conference, but I like our club. I think we have a chance to be a good club for a long period of time with the talent that we have in the lineup."