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Q&A: John Davidson talks about the big issues facing the Blue Jackets

From his excitement to return to the direction of the franchise, the returning CBJ president of hockey operations speaks

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

One thing that cannot be argued -- there is a lot going on with the Columbus Blue Jackets right now. 

Coming off its record season since 2011-12 during the recent pandemic-shortened season, Columbus is currently looking for a head coach after the departure of six-year leader John Tortorella. The team has three first-round picks and plenty of cap room, but the trades this season of Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nick Foligno and David Savard as well as the contract situations of a number of players have left the roster in a state of flux. 

Amid it all, the organization made a big decision in May, bringing back former president of hockey operations John Davidson on a five-year contract to fulfill the same role. Davidson oversaw some of the biggest successes in franchise history in his original seven-season run from 2013-19, including the 50-win season in 2017, the playoff sweep of Tampa Bay in 2019 and unprecedented draft success and stability. 

He returns ready to work during a time where much needs to be figured out, so what is on Davidson's mind as he gets started? chatted with Davidson on Tuesday to get his take on many of the hottest topics around the team. As you've talked over the past few weeks, you've often mentioned how excited you and your family are to be back in Columbus. I know the enthusiasm is genuine, but I don't know how much time you've been able to spend here since being hired about two weeks ago. Have you been able to come back and feel like you're actually back yet? 

John Davidson: "I have been back to Columbus for a number of different reasons, whether it's real estate or things with the team and all that, but I am commuting (right now). I'm back and forth from New York because I have to go through the process of selling a home here and trying to get organized here. It's early June. Once all this gets organized, then I'm going to be a happy guy." 

Video: Interview: JD & Bob (5/20/21)

Is there something you're forward to doing or a place you're looking forward to returning to that will make you really feel like you're back in Columbus? 

"No, but I think once I'm back in Columbus and situated, it's going to be really good. It's a busy time of year with the offseason business of hockey, then it will settle down come August and we'll hopefully look toward a normal start to a season with (the) Traverse City (Prospects Tournament) and then training camp, et cetera.  

"The other thing is my wife and I will be able to get our daughters into Columbus. They don't live too far away with the grandsons. There's five of them total. I just want to get all of that going and get stabilized and get situated and just be normal." 

Something I was thinking about, I didn't know a ton about Columbus, but when I came here for school, I decided it was a place I wanted to live and a place I really enjoyed. I don't want to say it caught me by surprise a little bit, but the city does grow on you once you get here. You've lived a lot of places, but did it catch you by surprise how much you came to enjoy it here? 

"I went to high school in Calgary many years ago with Jeff Rimer, and Jeff kept telling me what a great place Columbus is and what a wonderful spot to live it is. Of course, Jeff being Jeff, he was absolutely right.  

"The quality of life starts with people, and the people in Columbus are just good people. The other thing that is really noticeable, for us at least, is the ownership of the club is very involved in the well-being of the city of Columbus. You're living in a city and you're part of ownership, you are part of the Blue Jackets, and the Blue Jackets along with many other companies and sports teams, etc., do their part to make Columbus a better city. My wife does a lot of charity things. She likes to be a part of it.  

"So when you start adding the stuff up, it's really good. Getting to the airport, traveling, there are things that maybe some people take for granted, but it's a heck of a lot easier to do that here than a lot of other cities. It's centralized. There's a lot of good things. You could sit here and write a book about the things that are good about the city of Columbus." 

READ MORE: CBJ react to Davidson hiring | Davidson by the numbers

I looked back at the conversation we had in 2019 before you left for the Rangers, and the franchise was just coming off of a great playoff run and the win against Tampa Bay. You talked about how sports and hockey can help make this city a better place and a more fun place to live. I think the fan base right now feels a little beat up with things that have happened recently, so how important is it for you to try to re-deliver something like that? 

"Sports can do that. Sports are very passionate and emotional, and it's generally a pretty good roller coaster ride over the years. I think with the Blue Jackets, we are working on our plan, going through a transition. Those are normal but at times difficult. I look now and you think of the future. There's a number of young people that are going to be Blue Jackets in the future. There's three first-rounders this year. There's things that are happening. 

"If we didn't have those things, then you start to worry, but we have a lot of moving parts here, a lot of balls in the air and decisions to make. Sometimes the players give us the answers to those decisions; other times it's up to management to make the decisions. So I feel comfortable with the future of this club and this organization." 

The phrase you have used a couple of times is trying to "go north." There's been discussions about reloading vs. rebuilding, things like that, but it sounds like you do feel like you have the pieces that north is something that will happen here. 

"That's right. But nature takes its course. Nature takes its time, and you can't mess with nature. You can try to expedite for sure and make decisions, and if you add players from the outside and hopefully they are players that can add in your locker room and add leadership and things along those lines. It's a big, wide world of working to make your franchise better. 

"I love that you take a player like Boone Jenner, drafted by the Blue Jackets, he has Blue Jacket blood in his veins. Things like that. You like to see that. Cam Atkinson -- players who understand Columbus, understand that they want to be Blue Jackets, and those are the types of people we want." 

You said when you were hired that coming back would be like riding a bike when it comes to the people you'll be working with, such as general manager Jarmo Kekalainen. You've been commuting, but two weeks in and with some of the discussions you've had, does it feel like you've just jumped right back on that bike? 

"Yeah. Oh yeah. It's not as comfortable as I want because I'm not there full-time, but today's world with Zooms and communication levels where they are, it's a heck of a lot better than it was a while ago. There are curveballs every day. You deal with it, and the thing about it is there's a lot of passion within the organization, whether it was with our pro scouts or amateur scouts. We're looking for our coaching staff.  

"There's just a lot of things going on. The draft lottery is coming up, the draft is coming up, free agency is coming up, the expansion draft is coming up. It's not boring, I can tell you that. It's fun. It's actually a lot of fun." 

Something I wanted to ask, a curious question on my part based on something some fans have asked me. What do you feel like your strengths are? Coming back, what do you deliver to this franchise? 

"It's just experience, stability. I am a meat and potatoes-type guy. I want to have our organization work and do everything we can that is humanly possible to make our franchise better, and I want our guys to enjoy doing it, have fun doing it. There's only one time through this world and one time through life. You have to enjoy where you work, and we are going to create that environment and continue with it and make Columbus, make the Blue Jackets a team our city is going to be proud of." 

Speaking of meat and potatoes, I have a couple of questions about some issues facing the team right now. Obviously the team is looking for a new coach; what are the things you're looking for in someone who can lead this team? 

"Someone that has integrity, someone that has experience, someone that is going to fit our team and someone that is going to have our players fit that coach. Leadership from the coach and understanding of the athlete that is ever-changing, always changing. All of the above.  

"There are places you look. You look everywhere from within to outside to different countries to everything, but you are going to end up with a strong gut feeling on somebody when you go through this process." 

The other meat and potatoes question I have to ask because it's so fresh in peoples' minds -- I know you want to keep the discussions between you and Seth Jones internal, but how do you go about handling that where you have a guy that has just a year left (on his contract)? Because it's a tough situation, obviously. 

"Listen, it's part of the business of sports today. Seth Jones is a great player and he's a great human being. Seth Jones has every right in the world that when it comes time for him, if he wants to explore the free agent marketplace, he can do that. And one of the big keys about that type of stuff is to have communication among the player and his camp and our organization so everybody can do the right things at the right time.  

"So we will weigh everything. We will keep discussions open, and when it comes time, we will make a decision, and that decision has to be something, whichever way it goes, that's going to help the Columbus Blue Jackets organization. 

"We can get shocked by this stuff, but when you look at any sport, whether it's basketball, football, baseball, hockey, there are people that change addresses. That's just what it is. If the person or player wants to stay with you and you want them, that's fantastic. If he wants to explore, he has every right to, and we have to deal with that and find the best answer for the Blue Jackets." 

One last big picture question. You're 68 years old and have had some interesting NHL lives. You were a player for a long time, a broadcaster for an even longer time, and now you're about 15 years into this life building teams. What about it keeps you in it? Why did you want to go this route over any of the other opportunities you had, or maybe even retirement and just enjoying yourself? 

"I think I am a lifer. I think when it comes to September 15 that if I'm retired and not doing anything, I'd be bored stiff. I like the action of it all. There's nothing better than winning. And to be frank, when you involved in a franchise and you see the young players grow and become great players, that is very satisfying. It's satisfying to see.  

"The Columbus Blue Jackets, when we went through this in the past, we went from a building that was on many nights not too full to having it full all the time. It was fantastic. There's always that light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, and it's called winning, and you drive and strive to do that.  

"I am 68 and I've been 48 years in the league. Next year will be my 49th, but it's a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful game with wonderful people, and the challenge is always there. It just is. I could have retired. I could have gone into television -- again -- but I feel this is where I want to be, right in the middle of it. And going back to a city that I really, sincerely like, our family likes it, so what else would I do?" 

That would be a great place to end things, but I have one more quick one. The draft lottery is (tonight), and you were with a franchise last year that won it. Is there a lucky rabbit's foot or something you bring out? 

"I am excited to see how it goes, and if I have something with me -- which I might -- and it works, I'll let you know." 

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