John Davidson has anew book on his nightstand, 454 eye-glazing pages that are best negotiated withbifocals and a machete. Think of the NHL's collective bargaining agreement asWar and (Labor) Peace, a dense but, alas, must read for the new president ofthe St. Louis Blues. "There are two things people have to understand,"Davidson said last Friday. "The first is, I'm not a lawyer. The second is,this thing is long. I'm about halfway through." Less than two weeks intothe job, Davidson wasn't sure what he needed first: a good goal scorer orEvelyn Wood.
After spending morethan two decades explaining the ABCs of hockey as an astute broadcaster,Davidson has matriculated to CBAs. Team president, of course, is rarely anentry-level management position. (Imagine Tim McCarver bolting frommid-soliloquy to run your local nine.) There is nothing on Davidson'srésumé-NHL goalie for a decade with the Blues and the Rangers, followed by morethan 20 years as an analyst all over the North American dials-that qualifiesthis gregarious 53-year-old for the job, at least if you discount hisattendance at thousands of morning skates and his remarkable appetite forwork.
Davidson, though,knows everybody in hockey and has long been a trusted, behind-the-scenesclearinghouse for information and opinions. The new Blues ownership group,headed by former Madison Square Garden boss Dave Checketts, who got to knowDavidson when he was working Rangers games on the MSG network, has given himfive years to take the Blues from the slag heap-St. Louis had the NHL's worstrecord last season-to playoff contender. Checketts, who said he has long beenimpressed with Davidson's intellect, also said he wanted someone with ties toSt. Louis and with firm footing in the NHL fraternity.
Unless Davidson'sBlues win a Stanley Cup, he will not turn out to be as good a president as hewas a broadcaster. He was a man you welcomed into your home, a conversational(and omnipresent) analyst who last year worked, by his count, 155 games,including the Olympics. If the game mattered, Davidson deconstructed it foryou. If he had a flaw as an analyst, it was his generosity; Davidson was rarelypointed in his criticism of the play or the players. Now, his opinions willdirectly affect men's lives and livelihoods.
"That's a scarythought," says Davidson, who has two college-age daughters with his wife of31 years, Diana, and says he took the job for the challenge of winning theStanley Cup, which he never did as a player. "Before I would leave a gameand just go home, and it didn't really matter who won or lost. Now it's myresponsibility."
Davidson's hiringwas announced on June 30 at 6 p.m. The next day he arrived at his new office inthe Savvis Center at 8 a.m., three hours before the start of the NHL's frenziedfree-agent period. He got his feet wet by jumping into the deep end, with 29sharks.
He and generalmanager Larry Pleau, who had guided the Blues to seven straight playoffs(though only five series wins) before last year and was signed by Davidson to amultiyear contract extension, spent 16 hours a day over the next three daysphoning agents and players. Davidson was surprised at how free agency was likeshooting at a moving target. "You think you're making progress on a guy and... bang, he's gone," said Davidson, declining to name any who escaped.
Through Sunday hehad reacquired center Doug Weight, 35, whom St. Louis had traded to Carolina inJanuary, and taken a one-year gamble on right wing Bill Guerin, a 35-year-oldthree-time All-Star coming off a terrible 13-goal season in Dallas. Both mayhave seen better days, but Davidson did score a coup by inking coveted shotblocking defenseman Jay McKee to a four-year, $16 million deal. He also signedBlues' coach Mike Kitchen to a two-year extension.
"Usually atthis time of year, I'm walking on a golf course," Davidson said. "NowI'm walking over hot coals."
After talking thetalk, Davidson is suddenly walking a different kind of walk.
Out of the Booth
John Davidson's move from media to management is notunprecedented in sports. Here are some others who made the switch.
BOB BRENLY Manager Arizona Diamondbacks
After seven seasons as a broadcaster, the former Giantscatcher won a World Series in 2001, his first of 31/2 seasons with the D-Backs.He's now a color analyst for the Chicago Cubs.
JERRY COLEMAN Manager San Diego Padres
The former Yankees second baseman was the Padres'play-by-play man for eight seasons before taking over as manager in 1980. Aftera sixth-place finish he returned to the booth, where he remains today.
BUCK MARTINEZ Manager Toronto Blue Jays
Spent 14 years as an analyst in Canada, then was namedthe Jays' manager before the 2001 season. He went 100-115 before being firedearly in 2002. Now a commentator for the Baltimore Orioles.
MARIO TREMBLAY Coach Montreal Canadiens
Former Canadiens right wing spent nine years on radioand TV for the team before being named coach in 1995. In two seasons he went71-63-25 (.525) and made the playoffs both years. He's currently an assistantcoach with the Minnesota Wild.