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Five Questions: Blue Jackets' Davidson on stretch run

by Dan Rosen's weekly Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game today and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Columbus Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson:

John Davidson didn't need to hear the end of the question before he started answering in the affirmative.

"It's our biggest game of the year," Davidson, the Columbus Blue Jackets president of hockey operations, told on Monday.

Columbus Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson addresses the franchise's push for its second-ever berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and how the culture is changing since he took the job. (Photo: Jamie Sabau/NHLI)

He's talking about Columbus' home game Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2), and there's no arguing with him on this one.

The Blue Jackets have lost two in a row and three out of four to fall out of playoff position in the ever-fluctuating Eastern Conference for the time being. However, they have a chance to jump back into one of the two wild-card spots with a win against the Red Wings, who currently occupy the first wild-card spot.

The top three teams in each division qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs; the wild-card teams are determined by the next two highest-placed finishers based on regular-season points and regardless of division.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals are also in the mix for the wild-card spots right now and both are in action Tuesday, but they have played more games than the Blue Jackets. Columbus also has more regulation/overtime (ROW) wins than the Red Wings, Maple Leafs and Capitals; it has the same ROW number as the New Jersey Devils, who are five points out of the wild-card race and don't play again until Thursday.

ROW is the first tiebreaker considered after games played.

"It's obviously getting to the point where this is the one game that is most important now," Davidson said of facing the Red Wings. "I just want our guys to be ready, prepared and to play our hockey. We're playing against a Detroit team that is very well-coached, that just battles. They play hard. Considering all of their adversity this year they've stayed in the hunt, so this is a big one for both our teams."

However, the game against Detroit isn't all that's on Davidson's mind nowadays. He talked to about why the Blue Jackets have struggled in recent games, the big move the team made at the NHL Trade Deadline, what he hopes is the team's bright future, and more in this week's Q&A.

Here are Five Questions with … John Davidson:

The team has lost two in a row and three of four to fall out of playoff position. What has to change to get it back motoring in the right direction?

"I think we have to finish. We've had lots of scoring chances, we're not finishing. Our power play has been a part of that. It's gone dry right now, and as I speak I'm watching our club working on the ice with it. That's got to get better for us. Even if you don't score, that has to get better because it gives you positive momentum. We're not giving up a whole lot, but we need to get the puck in the net."

You bring up scoring, which is interesting because you had Marian Gaborik, who is obviously known as a goal scorer, and you traded him away to the Los Angeles Kings. Why didn't Gaborik fit in Columbus?

"He had a rough time with injuries mostly. The knee went early. He got back, but the first game back he got hit hard and fractured his collarbone and was out for quite some time. We were looking at it going forward and didn't see a fit for next season, so we decided just to make that change. He wanted to stay. He's a good person. It just seemed like a square peg in a round hole for our club. We just play a different game and it just wasn't a fit. He's a good person, a good player and he'll do well in Los Angeles."

Is it that he wants to play more of an east-west game and you guys want to go north-south?

"I don't know if that's the right way of saying it. It just didn't seem to work. We're a young team and we're going to be able to grow together here. We're a very young team. We are looking at now, trying to look at the future, figure out how we're going to do things, and we just felt it wasn't a fit.

"Listen, Marian has been a world-class scorer, but we also scored quite a bit when he wasn't playing for us. I don't look at it with Marian not being here, that's the reason we're not scoring. He didn't play a whole lot for us this season and we won a lot of hockey games, did a pretty good job scoring compared to a year ago. We've had some players that have come a long way like [Ryan] Johansen and others, but right now it's hard to score, our power play has not been good, and these are the same players that we had earlier in the season when it was going better. We just have to work our way through this thing."

You may have seen this, but when Rick Nash returned to Columbus last week he was asked who he thinks has replaced him as the face of the Blue Jackets right now, and he basically said that while he doesn't watch a lot of games, from everything he has heard the new face of the franchise is Ryan Johansen. Is Johansen already that guy in Columbus?

"I'd say Ryan Johansen has a chance to be that guy, but I think he's got a long way to go. I think he's really made great strides this season with improvement to being a legitimate player in this League. His upside is very high, but he's got to continue to work on a lot of different things to get to that level, and he's still a very young player. I mean, you look at the great centers that have played in this League in the past two decades, not too many become great centers in their first two or three years. It takes time for this stuff to happen, for people like [Ryan] Getzlaf and [Joe] Thornton and a lot of those type players to get there. 'Jo' is a player that has that upside for sure, but there's a lot that goes into this. It's confidence. It's momentum. It's conditioning. It's off-ice workouts during the offseason. All these things go together toward building a player who can be the best that he can be. He certainly has the tools. He is certainly on his way. And I can hardly wait to see the finished product.

"The other thing too, to be honest with you, is on our club we have a very good young player on the blue line in Ryan Murray. I don't know if many people in this League know how good this kid is or how good he's going to be, but he's a very, very, very good young player."

When you got to Columbus after your tenure in St. Louis you talked about culture, changing the culture, building a winner. Other than being in the playoff race and also having a chance at the end of last season, what else do you see that suggests to you the plan you have for the Blue Jackets is in motion and it's working?

"No matter where our club goes with results this season, we have to see marked improvement with the future of our hockey club. When I see [Dalton] Prout, [David] Savard and Murray, those are three young defensemen that have all come up the ladder during this season. When I see a player like Johansen doing what he's doing -- I'm seeing young players that are really developing before our eyes. That's what we have to see. We have a young goaltender in [Sergei] Bobrovsky. We all know he won the Vezina Trophy last season, but he's still young. And some of our veteran players, they continue to help us to battle and play Blue Jackets hockey, which is a hard-working brand and we can't let anybody off the hook with lack of passion or lack of hard work. We have to have that because that's what we are, that's what our reputation is. When we slip in that area we don't win games. I thought on the Island the other day that slipped a little bit. The Islanders worked harder than us. They had had four days off and we had played a ton of games in very few nights, but still we have to find ways to win those games.

"So whatever happens, as long as I see marked improvement, especially with the future of our club, then I know we're going in the right direction. And it's more than just what is on the ice here; it's also with what's on the ice around the world with our future players and how they're improving, where they're playing, what they're doing. We've seen a lot of upside. A lot of guys are having good seasons."


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