John Davidson admits now he wasn't sure what he was getting himself into.
Burned out from two decades of television work and looking for a new challenge, one of the most respected men in hockey took a bit of a leap of faith when he went to St. Louis to take over the hockey side of the Blues' operation in 2006.
Sure, he knew the game, but did he know all it would take to build a winning organization?
DAVIDSON: Thank you, Columbus
Of course, now we have our answer. Davidson spent six years with the Blues and built a consistent and sustained winner, with many of the players his brain trust drafted still a key part of the team that qualified for the Stanley Cup Final on Tuesday night.
Then, Davidson spent the last seven seasons as president of hockey operations of the Blue Jackets, taking a team that needed direction and providing just that. Columbus has made four playoff appearances in his tenure, just missed another, and finally won the first postseason series in franchise history this year over Tampa Bay.
Davidson is now headed home, as he was introduced today as the newest president of the New York Rangers, with whom he's a franchise icon.
Blue Jackets look to continue stability built by Davidson
But before he left Columbus, Davidson sat down with BlueJackets.com to discuss the success he's had in his career, including seven great years in Columbus that he said will go down as some of the best time of his life.
"You work with good people, you hire good people, good things can happen," Davidson said. "The Blues are still good. The Blue Jackets are going to be good for a long time. It's not all me, it's everybody you work with, and you create a culture of wanting people to show up and have passion and work hard and enjoy it. Then good things can happen.
"The idea is to win games on the ice, but the idea is also to enjoy life, have people enjoy life, to make the city a better place. We accomplished all that, too."
Davidson took over a team that had made just one playoff appearance in its first decade-plus of existence and turned it into a winner. Columbus went 285-209-46 in his tenure, placing ninth in the league in that time, and had its five most winningest seasons under his watch, not to mention the team is fourth in the NHL in wins the past three seasons.
He was brought in to create both stability and competence and has built an organization based on those principles. His biggest hire in 2013 might have been general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, the first European-born GM in NHL history who has shown a keen eye for talent and a confidence to make bold moves to make the Blue Jackets better.
Other key pieces of the hockey operations department include such names as assistant general manager Bill Zito, director of player personnel Basil McRae, director of hockey administration Josh Flynn, coach John Tortorella and a network of professionals around the world that have worked to make the Blue Jackets a winner.
Statements from John P. McConnell, Mike Priest
Davidson promised to build the organization "brick by brick," with no shortcuts, and did just that. In return, he feels the Blue Jackets are in a space where the success can build on itself even after his departure.
"There have been some good bricks. Not all of them worked, but a lot of them did," Davidson said. "I think it's gratifying as a group here to see the effort that was put in, and a good portion of it has been positive. Our ownership here led by the McConnell family gives you great support. You can't accomplish much if you don't get that support from the top.
"In leaving, I think we're in a good place here. It's in great hands with Jarmo and Bill and Josh and Basil and all these guys. I think we've been able to establish a firm foundation of how to try to build and keep going and getting better as a hockey club because it's a worldwide endeavor.
"Our coaching staff, our medical staff -- it's a good family. It really is, and I think because of all of that work everybody has done, people realize that Columbus is a good city -- a great city, actually. It's a terrific organization and it's a place that players look at. I'm proud of that."
That word -- pride -- is something that hits home with Davidson, not just because of the hockey team he helped build but the bigger impact the organization has had on the city and its fan base.
When talking about what made him most proud about his time in Columbus, things like the continued work to build youth hockey in the city, the charity work the organization and his family undertook, and what the sport has come to mean to the fabric of the city all stand out.
"It's hard to say just one thing, but the growth over the last six and a half years has been really good. I'm proud of that," said Davidson, who also served on the Columbus Partnership during his tenure with the Blue Jackets. "I'm happy for the Blue Jackets and their fans. It's a fan base here which was always a loyal fan base without question, but it's grown, and I'm proud of that. The work the team and the organization has been able to do to make Columbus a better place … it's all been very special."
The chance to return to the Rangers was one Davidson felt was time, in large part because of his ties to the organization. He spent parts of eight seasons with the team as a goaltender then worked as the color commentator on the team's television broadcasts from 1986 to 2006, making him one of the most beloved figures in franchise history.
There was only one job Davidson would leave Columbus for, and now he has it.
"I'm 66 now," he said. "You try to look at what has happened, these have been six and a half of the best years of my life. It's been fabulous. But you have to sometimes go with what makes some sense, and this makes a lot of sense for me right now. I spent 28 years in New York in a lot of different areas. I have a chance to go back there and go to work."