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Rangers broadcaster John Davidson named president of Blues

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
ST. LOUIS (AP) - The sale of the St. Louis Blues to a group led by Dave Checketts was completed Friday, and the new owners immediately named top NHL broadcaster John Davidson as team president.

Checketts, the former head of the New York Knicks and Madison Square Garden, reached a deal to buy the team on March 24 and had the sale approved by the NHL board of governors last week.

It transfers ownership of the Blues - the league's worst team this season - and the Savvis Center from Bill and Nancy Laurie to Checketts and his Sports Capital Partners.

Checketts said general manager Larry Pleau will be retained in his present job, but Davidson added that coach Mike Kitchen was a "candidate" to retain his job. Pleau and the rest of Blues operations staff will report to Davidson.

"Larry Pleau has done a marvelous job through some very, very trying times, and he's done a great job keeping this thing pointed in the right direction," Davidson said. "It's obvious they had a very good draft day."

Checketts represented the team last weekend at the NHL draft when the Blues chose American defenseman Erik Johnson with the first overall pick.

Davidson became the league's primary color analyst after an 11-year NHL career as a goalie with the Blues and New York Rangers. His friendship with Checketts and familiarity with the Blues were keys to his decision to change jobs and take a five-year deal with the Blues.

"It's a gigantic move, and it's one that had to be perfect for me," Davidson said. "It is because the owners are people I know and have known for a long time. And I know St. Louis."

Several dozen former Blues players have never left town. Davidson, who played for the Blues in 1973 and 1974, said he will purchase a home in St. Louis.

"I loved my two years here," Davidson said. "Now the circle goes around, and I'm thrilled about it."

Davidson joined MSG Network full-time in 1986, three years after his retirement as a player, to work Rangers games following a brief departure to Canada. He has worked alongside partner Sam Rosen ever since.

Davidson expanded his work to network television in the United States, working five Olympics on CBS and NBC. He was also the lead hockey analyst as the NHL's network package shifted between ABC, FOX and NBC.

He was also a part of coverage on ESPN and on "Hockey Night in Canada" telecasts on CBC.

The Ontario native was chosen by St. Louis in the first round of the 1973 draft and was traded to the Rangers after two seasons.

With Checketts in charge in New York, the Knicks reached the NBA finals in 1994 and 1999. Now he will try to fix the Blues, who fell from the top 10 in the league in attendance to the bottom five during their dismal season - the first following the NHL lockout.

The Blues finished last in the NHL this past season, ending a run of 25 consecutive playoff appearances. The Lauries drastically slashed payroll in order to facilitate a sale.

They announced plans to sell the Blues 10 months before reaching the deal with Checketts, claiming they lost millions of dollars since buying the club in 1999.

The Checketts group inherits a team light on first-line talent with forward Keith Tkachuk the major holdover after the Blues picked up a $3.8 million option after the end of the season.

Two of the players the Blues traded, forward Doug Weight and defenseman Chris Pronger, ended up in the Stanley Cup finals. Weight helped the Carolina Hurricanes win the Cup, and Pronger was a key player in the Edmonton Oilers' surprise run to Game 7 of the finals after entering the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Conceivably, both players could return. Weight is an unrestricted free agent and Pronger has requested a trade because of his wife's reported dissatisfaction with Edmonton.

"It's not the appropriate time," Davidson said. "Certainly, we know both players had a great playoff run, and time will tell."

Both Checketts and Davidson said they would rebuild the franchise with youth as the foundation. Checketts said it was premature to discuss payroll.

"We've been so focused on the closing, we really need to evaluate what it will take," Checketts said. "We're not there yet. This is less about dollars than about attitude, and we will do what we need to do to bring a championship."
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