Davidson says Blue Jackets ready for any decision Seth Jones makes
When John Davidson was an NHL television analyst, one of his many talents was an ability to point out a player’s mistake without making it seem like he committed a federal crime.
He was real in his assessment, honest about the situation, but measured in his reaction. He would say simply that the player would like to have that play back or something similar. Davidson always had a way of being sincere and passionate, without being threatening or overbearing. Players specifically, and people in general, liked the way Davidson approached his television job.
Davidson’s mix of diplomacy and persuasion will be useful to him as he dives into his new job as the Columbus Blue Jackets president of hockey operations. It’s also his old job because Davidson held the post from 2012-2019 when he worked with general manager Jarmo Kekalainen to guide the Blue Jackets to five playoff appearances over seven seasons. Two years later, Davidson comes to a Blue Jackets team that has lost its footing. The Blue Jackets ranked 28th out of 31 NHL teams this season. More importantly, they continue to deal with players wanting to leave the team.
“We have to win again,” Davidson said. “And that takes hard work and we are rolling up our sleeves."
Over the last two years, the Blue Jackets have watched Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Josh Anderson and Pierre-Luc Dubois leave the organization.
Now, reports have circulated that defenseman Seth Jones, eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2022, has already indicated to the team that he intends to leave.
“It’s up in the air, still,” Davidson said. “Nothing has been decided. There have been discussions and both sides said they would keep it private.”
Davidson said the Blue Jackets have made it clear that they want Jones to remain as a Blue Jacket.
“He’s a great guy, great player, wonderful team person,” Davidson said. “He’s a 26- to 29-minute guy, plays the game the right way.”
But Davidson doesn’t sidestep the reality of the situation. He said they want Seth to stay “but we have to protect ourselves.”
“It’s Seth’s decision,” Davidson said. “He will have that right. If he decides to stay, our arms are wide open. If he decides the best thing for him is to move on, then we will do something that’s the best for the organization.”
Davidson said there is no specific timetable, but “we can’t wait this out and hope he stays because he is too valuable to us.”
Composed. Professional. Practical. Unemotional. Head-on. Those are words that sum up Davidson’s plan for dealing with the situation.
“It comes down to business.” Davidson said. “(Alex) Pietrangelo left St. Louis. Torey Krug left Boston. That’s the nature of sports these days.”
Winning would help Columbus keep its players. Top players want to stay where they have a strong chance of winning. Since entering the NHL in 2000, the Blue Jackets have only qualified for the playoffs six times. They appeared to be turning the corner when they averaged 47 wins over a three-year period when Davidson was in his first Columbus tenure. In 2018-19, everyone was talking about the Blue Jackets when they swept the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs.
But now the Blue Jackets are a renovation project. Columbus is looking for a new coach. The team needs a top-flight center and it will need another top defenseman if Jones is dealt. Don’t forget that Nick Foligno and David Savard, headed to free agency, were traded before the trade deadline. Patrik Laine, one of the players they received in the Dubuis trade, had a subpar season and they must get him re-signed.
“It’s important for everyone that we get Patrik playing the way Patrik can play and then everything will fall into place,” Davidson said.
Davidson, 68, believes current judgments on players and teams aren’t particularly useful because “nothing has been normal for a season and a half" because of Covid-19.
It was also an odd turn of events that led to Davidson landing back in Columbus. He was unexpectedly fired by New York Rangers general manager James Dolan.
“Mr. Dolan decided to go in a different direction and that’s his right,” Davidson said. “That’s how it goes.”
Davidson’s first thought was to retire. But he believed he might regret that when training camps opened in September. Then he started receiving phone calls, including one from Columbus.
A determining factor in deciding to take the Columbus job is that he has a daughter in St. Louis and one in Michigan and they have a total of five grandchildren. Davidson and his wife thought they would see them more living in Columbus.
So Davidson was actually “grandfathered” into the Blue Jackets position.
He said he’s looking forward to the challenge ahead, particularly with the Blue Jackets owning three first round picks. Davidson, known to his friends as “JD”, is a former NHL goalie and he’s always been among the hockey world's more popular personalities. His engaging presence should be a plus in recruiting, and keeping, players.
“We are going to do the best we can to make Columbus a destination for playing hockey in the NHL,” Davidson said. “We are going to do a lot of things to make it really good for the players.”