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Culture shift, stability are key factors in front-office extensions

Davidson, Kekalainen and Zito have cultivated winning attitude in Columbus as Jackets chase the Stanley Cup.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Aside from chasing the Stanley Cup, the Blue Jackets had two main goals in hiring John Davidson as the team's president of hockey operations back in 2012.

Coming off a 29-46-7 season in 2011-12, finishing with an NHL-low 65 points, Columbus sought to gain stability as a winning franchise and establish a culture change throughout the organization - from the ice to the front office to every level in-between.

Six years later, the only thing the Blue Jackets are still seeking is the Cup - which speaks volumes as to why Davidson and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen were each signed to multi-year contract extensions that were announced Thursday - along with a contract extension for assistant GM Bill Zito, who was also promoted to associate GM.

"Under John Davidson's leadership, our club has made great strides over the past six seasons and this long-term commitment speaks to the confidence that our ownership group, led by John P. McConnell, has in his vision for our team," Blue Jackets President Mike Priest said in the press release to announce the new agreements. "The plan implemented by our hockey operations senior management team is working and we are pleased that these talented and committed individuals will continue to lead our hockey-operations efforts for years to come."

PRESS RELEASE: Contract extensions announced for hockey operations senior management

Under Davidson's guidance - and the shrewd managerial moves made by Kekalainen, Zito and the staff they've assembled - Columbus has garnered leaguewide respect. The Blue Jackets now have a winning culture in place, extending throughout the organization.

Just consult the numbers for proof, because they tell the story all by themselves.

Since Davidson was hired, the Jackets have a record of 238-178-42 with a .566 points percentage. In 11 seasons of the team's existence prior to his arrival, they went 342-441-119 and had sub-par .445 points percentage.

Columbus has also won 42-plus games in four of the past five seasons, strung together three straight winning seasons for the first time in franchise history (2012-13 to 2014-15) and qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in three of the past five years - coming within a standings tiebreaker in 2013 of making it four out of five.

Last season's postseason appearance also set a franchise record as the first time the Blue Jackets had ever qualified for the postseason in consecutive years.

RELATED: Checking in with JD

The trick now is to keep that momentum rolling along, which the new contract extensions are designed to do - assuring that the organization's dedication to winning is still fervent.

"It's about trying to build a team that's going to win, and we seem to be going in that direction," Davidson told BlueJackets.com. "We seem to be getting stability in a lot of different areas."

Davidson, who's recovering from back surgery this week to add physical stability to his spine, has proudly stood watch over the Jackets' organizational shift toward a consistent winning mentality.

He's witnessed a definitive change for the better.

"I think the culture of our organization is the best it's been, ever, since this franchise started," said Davidson, who is also the team's alternate governor. "[McConnell] really wanted stability. When you go through that awfully emotional process of trying to build a franchise, you can make a change anytime you want. But he stayed with our group and we're still together and we're going to go further as a group. We've got a good staff, period, all the way through. I'm really happy for Jarmo and Bill and everybody else in the organization."

An extension agreement hasn't been reached yet with coach John Tortorella, who's also entering the final year of his current deal, but he told The Athletic in a recent Q&A the two sides are "still working on it, still talking."

Should an extension be reached with him, as well, it won't be a surprise. There's a new season ahead, days away from the start of training camp, and the Jackets have already sent the message they're unified, organizationally, heading into it.

"I remember learning a long time ago in the sports world that going into the last year without a contract can affect the stability of leadership - unless it's something that's been discussed and everybody knows where they stand," Davidson said. "But I think [these extensions] really … it gives security, it makes you feel wanted and it also tells our team that this is the group, we're in charge and we're going in the right direction. And that means ownership feels that way. I'm pretty proud, with our group in place, of where we were five years ago to where we are now."

The common thread that's led to this point is that stability Davidson mentioned, which the Blue Jackets now clutch tightly in their grasp. The next goal is to clasp onto the Stanley Cup and hoist it in Columbus, together.

"If the ownership feels like the people they hire are doing our jobs in getting a franchise in place to try to take the next step, then you have to stay with stability," Davidson said. "I am grateful for that. We have terrific ownership here. I've been around this league for 45 years. I can tell you right now that ownership here is terrific. They hire people and they let people do their jobs. Here in Columbus, it's a very good situation."

That management style is now pervasive throughout the Jackets' hockey-operations department. Davidson is content to let Kekalainen and Zito do their jobs the way they see fit, and they, in turn, let the scouts, coaches and others they've hired do theirs.

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