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Stability Davidson helped build will continue on with Blue Jackets

Kekalainen hopes to continue to build winner on, off ice

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

If the question facing the Columbus Blue Jackets is "Now what?" the answer appears to be a pretty simple one. 

In his seven years as president of hockey operations for the Blue Jackets, John Davidson oversaw the transformation of an organization. A franchise that had made the playoffs just once became marked by its stability, on the ice -- as one of seven franchises to make the playoffs each of the past three years -- and off of it. 

And now, that stability is what will carry the Blue Jackets through Davidson's resignation, announced Friday, to become president of the New York Rangers.  

Jarmo Kekalainen will replace Davidson as one of the team's alternate governors, but when asked what will change in the grand scheme of things within the hockey side of the organization, the general manager essentially said not much.  

"It will not change anything in the philosophy (of the front office)," Kekalainen said Friday from Slovakia, where he's taking in a World Championships tournament filled with Blue Jackets players and prospects. "Everything will be going the same way. We'll miss JD, but we'll continue to work. 

"I'm going to be attending the Board of Governors meeting and learning some of that side of the business, and I will be honored to do that and take the challenge head-on. But the main thing for me is going to be continuing to be the general manager of the Blue Jackets. That's my dream job and that's what I love doing and that's what I will be doing." 

The Blue Jackets feel strongly about the hockey operations department that has been built under Davidson, including Kekalainen, whom Davidson hired in 2013 as the NHL's first European born and bred GM.  

In the meantime, the two -- who had previously worked together in St. Louis, where Davidson was president of hockey operations from 2006-12 and Kekalainen was director of amateur scouting and an assistant general manager through 2010 -- have built a franchise that has seen its most successful years. 

With the two in place, Columbus has made the playoffs in four of the past six seasons, including the three straight postseason appearances. The five seasons with the most wins in CBJ history all have occurred during Davidson's tenure, as were the top four seasons in terms of points.  

This past season, the Blue Jackets swept Tampa Bay, which won an NHL-record-tying 62 games this year, in the first round of the playoffs before a rough-and-tumble six-game series vs. Boston, which recently advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. 

Through it all, Davidson and Kekalainen were those who steered the ship when it came to roster construction and the overall plan on how to build a franchise. 

"I think we shared the same philosophy, the whole way that we're going to build through the draft and develop the players," Kekalainen said. "That's what we've done for the most part. When you're managing a team and building a team, there's different avenues as well, and we've always been on the same page with everything that goes into building a team. 

"That's important, then you get the support from above. I've said it many times this spring that we get great support all the way up to the ownership. It's a great situation."  

Davidson, 66, also brought legitimacy to the Blue Jackets franchise after a decorated career in hockey prior to his arrival. The big 6-foot-3 Davidson in his playing days was a goaltender, starring in juniors and becoming the fifth overall pick in the 1973 draft, then spending two years with the Blues and eight with the New York Rangers. After a decorated career in broadcasting both Rangers games and on national telecasts, Davidson has built two of the most consistent franchises in the game in the Blues and Blue Jackets.  

One of the most respected voices in hockey, Davidson is on the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee and has been honored by the Hall of Fame with its Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for his contributions to broadcasting. 

"He's got a big presence," Kekalainen said. "He's got a lot of experience in hockey in many different roles, different perspectives. Experience is important, so he's been very supportive the whole way. He's been a great guy to work for and work with. 

"I have nothing but great things to say. I wish him the best of luck with this unique opportunity. I'm forever grateful for the opportunity he's given me and my family, and it was a pleasure to work with him. While we're sad to lose him, we're happy for this unique opportunity, and I wish him the best of luck." 

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