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Five Questions With...

Five Questions with John Davidson

Blue Jackets president of hockey operations discusses coach John Tortorella, development of young players

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game 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:

The Columbus Blue Jackets announced themselves as a team to watch this season in a massive way with a 10-0 win against the Montreal Canadiens at Nationwide Arena last Friday. Montreal previously had zero regulation losses in 10 games, making Columbus' win even more impressive.

The next night though the Blue Jackets lost 2-1 in overtime at the St. Louis Blues, prompting coach John Tortorella to rip a handful of his top players, suggesting he didn't see enough buy-in from them and how more of the same could spoil the Blue Jackets' hopeful climb to respectability.

Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson, who is at the helm of a reclamation project similar to one he performed for six seasons with the Blues, offered his opinions on Tortorella's comments and the way things have gone this season in general in a phone conversation with on Monday.

Here are Five Questions with … John Davidson:

I was curious what you thought of the way John Tortorella talked after the loss in St. Louis. You're one game removed from a 10-0 win against Montreal, and the coach is putting the loss on himself, blaming some of the top players, etc. When he does these things, and that's who he is and how he is, what do you think of it as the president of the team?

"First of all, when he talks like that he does go to his players and everybody is on the same page. Everybody. He's very, very up front and honest with his players, and that's why these players here enjoy playing for him and that's why when you look at the history of John the majority of the really good players love playing for the guy. The majority of good players have all said he's the best coach he's ever played for, and we've canvased players all over the League that are retired or still playing. And a lot of the people who have coached with him say they've never learned as much as they have learned from him. So you take the 95, 98 or 99 percent of the good and you deal with the one percent that is not as good. And you talk to him. John is an easy guy to talk to. He's emotional. He knows he's John Tortorella, so if he says things it's going to get blown up and everybody is going to talk about it because people are waiting for that train wreck. That's just what it is. From my point of view, I talk to Jarmo [Kekalainen], our general manager, and he talks to [Tortorella], and we are constantly reminding each other of how to do things better in the proper sense of how things should be done. The other night he was steamed because we lost in overtime against a very good club but played the night before, and he felt that some guys weren't playing like they should be and he was emotional about it. We talked about it. Everybody is on the same page. He's our coach and he's a good coach. He's a terrific coach. Players are understanding him and it doesn't matter who you are on this team, if you're a veteran player or a rookie, if you're a first-liner or a fourth-liner or extra, you're all the same and you're going to be treated the same.

"He's very honest. He's trying to work with players. We're trying to create a culture here to get our team to become a winning organization and you've got to fight that fight to get there. He's fighting it. He understands it. I think that as an organization we're on that road. It takes time. I get that. We were 30th not long ago. We've had ups and downs, and in particular down last season for whatever reason. But we're rebounding. We've got a lot of future here. Our captain [Nick Foligno] has been terrific. Our goaltending has been terrific. Our defense has been terrific. We have a few veterans up front that aren't playing to their standards yet, but that's part of the process and when they do we'll be even better."

In regards to that, I don't know if it's too much pressure to put on a team, but does this team have to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season for it to be a successful season?

"I don't think I would ever answer that in an absolutely we must make the playoffs attitude. We're in a situation where we certainly are evolving. We're the youngest team in the League and there's going to be a lot of ups and there's going to be some downs. That's just what it is when you're the youngest team. In turn, I want progress. I want evolution. I want us to become a team that's going to learn how to win. We haven't learned how to win yet. We lost two games to start the season and we've gone 5-1-2 since. That's evolution. We're showing some things. Our penalty killing (90.6 percent) and power play (39.3 percent) have been off the charts. It's hard to continue with those numbers. We've got to be better in areas. But why not? Why shouldn't we be in the hunt with everyone else? There are some teams that are looking good early, the [New York] Rangers in particular, but we're a team that once we learn how to win, we get our kids learning how to do some things right … we're stabilized in some positions but we know there are other areas we've got to look at. That's part of this process. It took a long time in St. Louis to turn that franchise around. You're not only drafting and developing and then getting them to the NHL and then getting them to be the best they can be in the NHL, which takes time, you're also changing a culture and that takes time. You make mistakes along the way. You do some good things along the way. While everybody else around you is doing this and doing that, you've got to stay with your plan and that's what we're doing.

"The one thing about being in Columbus, and it's documented here, is these fans have gone through a lot in 16 years. A lot. But we've only been here three and change. The rest is not my business. I have empathy for sure, and god, these people have stayed with us. But we're trying to stare in the eye of the tiger, stare it down, and make improvements. You see [Alexander] Wennberg coming. You see [Zach] Werenski coming. You see Seth Jones coming, even though he got hurt. Ryan Murray is coming along. Sergei Bobrovsky has got his game back. Nick Foligno has got his game back. We're going in the right direction. We've got more kids coming too. We've got some kids playing in Europe who are good players and kids playing in Cleveland [American Hockey League] who are good players. We're in a good place. And the AHL team winning the Calder Cup last season was helpful. That was part of the evolution. Those kids showed they're good players, showed they knew how to play as a team and play under pressure. That was a great experience factor."

Wennberg looks good. Is he becoming a first-line or second-line center for the future? Is this where he's going?

"He's certainly getting there. He's a young guy that we drafted in the first round [No. 14, 2013 NHL Draft]. Probably to be frank he didn't spend as much time in the minors as he should have, but that was due to injury and so we had him here. He's been learning the ropes that way. He's gotten bigger. He's a 200-pounder now; he's 6-2, and probably when he got here he was 175. He's still got room to grow. He's a very skilled player, very intelligent player like a lot of the Swedish players are. He's a good half-wall guy on the power play. There's a lot of different elements to his game that are very good. We don't know where his ceiling is, but he's growing. Considering he wasn't ripe when we got him here, we needed him to make a step going into this season and he's doing just that. He's not one of those guys called up from the minors who was already ripe. I give him credit, learning on the ropes the hard way. He's improving and he's a very bright player."

Another young player, Zach Werenski, another first-round pick with a high ceiling. He played almost 24 minutes the other night and he just turned 19. Is his development on pace or ahead of pace?

"If you go back to when we drafted him [2015], there was some pretty good defensemen in that draft and we really liked this kid. We got him at the eighth spot and he went back to Michigan, which he should have, being under [coach] Red Berenson. He decided he was going to go pro after their last season. What was remarkable about this, and this kid deserves the credit because he's doing it the right way, because this isn't about money. He could have come right to Columbus, played for us, probably made during that time in the neighborhood of $100,000. We talked to him about it, we advised, and he totally agreed along with his family -- he's got really good parents, he's well brought up -- to go to Cleveland and play in the American Hockey League playoffs. In turn, you don't make that $100,000. You just don't. That's what it is. But in our team's estimation, in winning the Calder Cup as an 18-year-old, he was the best defenseman in the playoffs. Period. With that all in place he comes here this year having a lot of pro games already under his belt, a lot of pressure games. The last game when they won the championship, there were 20,000 people there. This all played into him coming here and getting a running start and making our team. Who knows where it would have gone if he didn't go through that process, and he deserves the credit. He's been nothing short of great here since he's been here. He's a very bright player. He's got a lot of poise to him. And he's got a ceiling that you can't even see it's up there so high."

Does he remind you of anybody?

"No. The only thing I would say, and I'm not saying he is, but he learned a lot of his game growing up in the Detroit area watching [Nicklas] Lidstrom play and that's a pretty good example of somebody you'd like to emulate when you turn pro. He's got a lot of very good traits to him. But it wasn't just about the money. It was about him doing things the right way where some players don't think that way and some agents don't think that way. In this situation he did everything right. Pat Brisson is his guy, his agent, and it was a decision made with his future in the mind's eye. He's just doing things right to be a good pro. You love, love, love players like that. You love agents that work that way because it's for the benefit of everybody involved."

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