Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dawn of a New Era

At 9:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time today the Columbus Blue Jackets named Jarmo Kekalainen the team's third General Manager.  The move quickly followed the release of the team's prior GM.  In making the move to select Kekalainen, Davidson showed that without a question this is his team.  Kekalainen had previously worked with Davidson in St. Louis before returning to his native Finland to manage Jokerit.

Kekalainen is known as an excellent evaluator of NHL talent and comes from a family filled with pro hockey scouts.  He's a logical choice for the Jackets job as the team is poised for its most important draft yet with 3 first round picks, a situation that is not unfamiliar to Kekalainen as he had the same situation in St. Louis once upon a time.

The move by Davidson caught many by surprise, but he has stated that he had been evaluating the situation for some time.  Selecting Kekalainen may not have been an obvious choice to many, but it is a completely logical choice for Davidson as a man he had already worked closely with in rebuilding the Blues.  The move eliminates any question as to what Davidson's role was in the franchise.  This is his team, top to bottom and will only become more so in the coming months and years.  The move also showed a level of decisiveness Jackets fans have been unaccustomed to in recent years.

This is merely the end of the beginning of the Davidson era. More moves are likely including the possibility of a new coach prior to the beginning of next season.  What is clear already is that Davidson intends to build a winning hockey culture from top to bottom, which is as it should be.

We at F.A.N.S. once again wanted to take the opportunity to thank those of you who stood with us on that cold January day last year and have joined us since.  Your voice and your effort made a huge statement to the owners and the hockey world as to how passionate this fan base is about their Columbus Blue Jackets.  Now we all stand with John Davidson as he works to build the sort of team that we aspire for the Jackets to be as set forth in our mission statement.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

One Year Later

On January 28, 2012, approximately 300 Columbus Blue Jackets fans gathered on a cold day in front of Nationwide Arena though no game was scheduled.  They gathered on that wintry afternoon to express their love for their team...and their frustration with its direction.  More shocking, the whole thing had come together in less than a week with initial effort from fans of the team who congregated on the Hockey's Future message board.

A year later, and quite a bit has changed.  Rick Nash--gone.  Mike Priest?  "Promoted" where he'd no longer provide input on hockey decisions after his crowning achievement, Jeff Carter, was traded less than twelve months after his acquisition.  The roster which finished last in the NHL for the first time in franchise history?  Largely overhauled.  Even Scott Howson now finds his authority diminished after the hiring of John Davidson.  

Did that one moment on January 28, 2012 cause all of these things?  No. But that afternoon you showed the hockey world that, despite the critics who pointed to decreased ticket sales as a sign that Columbus was another "non-traditional market" failure, there was a passionate and devoted fan base yearning for a winner to cheer for and who demanded accountability from those in charge.

Hopefully the next time we all get together in front of Nationwide is on a warm summer day some June and the Cup we hoist that day is full size.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"The first thing he did was hold everybody accountable"

“The first thing he did was hold everybody accountable, on and off the ice, especially the way you carry yourself and represent the organization,” Tkachuk said. “He got everybody in shape, made sure everybody acted like a professional. The bar was lifted.”
“You’d have to believe something has been missing (in Columbus),” Leetch said, “something above the players and the talent. It’s bigger than that, and that’s the stuff that J.D. understands.”
“There’s an all-inclusive mentality, absolutely, and there’s tremendous patience in that man. But he ends up just extinguishing people who have their own agendas, or people who undermine the effort to all push in the same direction. He sniffs out the bad apples in a hurry. He has no time for those people.”
These quotes are from today's Dispatch.  This is a must read, especially for everyone who has wanted a new direction at the top of this franchise.  Be sure to check it out here.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A.C.E. In The Hole

Dare I say "love the team, like the direction?"

With the hire of John Davidson, that is absolutely true.  It will take a lot more to reach "love" status but at least I can ditch that "hate" word.

It doesn't matter how we got here, the fact of the matter is we are finally here, taking a HUGE step towards becoming a winning organization.

I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am to write something positive about this organization for a change.  I must have been contacted by 10 different people asking me or telling me their opinion about this move to bring in John Davidson:

"What do you think about JD?"

"Glad to see cbj got Davidson"

"CBJ hire, a good one?"

"Nice move by CBJ today"

It felt good to say with a straight face that this is a big time legitimate attempt by ownership to address the real problems with this franchise.  That this move has franchise-altering potential -- it's that big.  Bigger than any trade.  Bigger than any coach hire/fire.  Bigger than any All Star Game.

There are six reasons why I love this move:

1. It moves Mike Priest out of hockey ops and into a role he's much better suited for, business ops.
2. Scott Howson, and the entire hockey operations department for that matter, now has an experienced hockey executive to answer to.
3. I like the fit for Davidson.  He comes into an organization desperate for someone to lead them.  He comes into an organization that has no place to go but up.  He comes into an organization in transition from the Rick Nash era.  He comes into an organization with 3 first round picks from which to build from.
4. Davidson is known to surround himself with proven hockey minds and is extremely well connected in this league.  He adds instant credibility.
5. Davidson knows how to market the game and rejuvenate fan interest.  I listened to his 97.1 The Fan interview on the way home and the guy is a phenomenal speaker.  This market needs this.
6. Full autonomy to make hockey related decisions.  This must be there for this to work.

John Davidson is what I'm calling our A.C.E. in the hole (yeah, I just made that up - but I'm running with it!).

A = accountability
C = culture
E = expectations

And as any honest poker player (do those exist?) will tell you, if you have enough ACEs in the hole, chances are pretty damn good you will be a winner.

This thing was never going anywhere until someone is able to fundamentally shift the accountability, culture and expectations pillars of this franchise and the only way that can happen is from the top down.  Hitch made a helluva a run at it, but hindsight being 20/20 -- he was just too far down the food chain without enough support to make it stick.   With the hire of John Davidson, ownership has now put a guy in the right position at the right time who has the power, experience and know-how to make it stick.

Sure he may fail, but you know what?   You've got to try something because what we have now has not worked and continuing with the status quo is the definition of insanity!  I'm thrilled ownership has reached this conclusion as well and if after a few years we find ourselves in the same spot -- that's when you ante up and try again, and many times as it takes to get it right!

Personally, if I were on the CBJ marketing staff, I'm having John Davidson record a message to the fans tonight and I spam it out to everyone.  Forget the All Star Game or this "Join the Battle" slogan, that stuff is like a bonus -- here one year, gone the next.  I start selling his plan, his resume, his road map for long term success because I believe that is what the long suffering fans want to hear.  I certainly know it's what I want to hear.

Now as Cap'n noted, John Davidson isn't perfect.  He can't waive a hockey stick and make things magically better over night, it will take some time.  Success, as we know all too well, is never guaranteed in this business and ultimately he will be judged just like everyone else -- on wins and losses.  It's also important to note that St. Louis didn't really take that big step until Doug Armstrong took over full time GM duties from Larry Pleau who in turn, hired Hitch as his coach last season.

While I'm personally prepared to give Davidson some time fix this thing, what I want to see is incremental improvement each season:

Priest/Howson's first 5 years:
2007-2008: 80
2008-2009: 92 (playoffs, swept in 1st round)
2009-2010: 79
2010-2011: 81
2011-2012: 65

AVG: 79.4

Davidson/Pleau/Armstrong's first 6 years:
2006-2007: 81
2007-2008: 79
2008-2009: 92 (playoffs, swept in 1st round)
2009-2010: 90
2010-2011: 87
2011-2012: 109 (playoffs, lost in 2nd round)

AVG: 89.6

The biggest difference is that Priest/Howson peaked in year #2 whereas the Davidson group took a couple of slight step backwards but ultimately peaked in year 6.  Davidson also took the Blues from a 57 point team to an 81 point team in his first season whereas Priest/Howson went from a 73 point team to 80 points.

I've been extremely critical of majority owner John P. McConnell but I also give credit where credit is due -- and without a doubt John P. McConnell (and Mike Priest from the sounds of it) deserve a ton of credit for bringing JD on board.  Make no mistake, this wasn't a cheap addition.  We're talking millions of dollars here.

So welcome to Columbus John Davidson.  I hope you've come to town with your hard hat on ready to roll up your sleeves as there is a lot of work to do!!



Note:  If you would like us to share your opinion on this hire, please send your email to

Davidson Not Perfect, But an Improvement Just the Same

Former St. Louis Blues President of Hockey Operations, John Davidson appears to be near signing with the Blue Jackets to serve as the team's President of Hockey Operations and suggests that ownership may finally be getting serious about improving the quality of its front office.

Davidson is a rarity in the respect that he isn't an executive coming off a poor performance by his prior franchise.  The Blues finally lived up to the expectations many have held for them since Davidson arrived in St. Louis this past season.  However, the Blues had new ownership and that ownership was anxious to save cash and so Davidson and his comparatively expensive salary was viewed as a luxury they could no longer afford.  With that said, Davidson's departure from St. Louis is also a tell that the new ownership group viewed their GM, Doug Armstrong, as more important in the team's turnaround than Davidson was.

Davidson can be an important piece in the turnaround of the Jackets franchise...if he is a part of the solution and not the whole solution.  He did two key things in St. Louis that the Jackets desperately need.  First, he put "aces in places" by putting the right people in positions to improve the team.  Yes, it ultimately cost him his job and, no, it didn't always work (take a look at the coaching carousel during his tenure).  However, what you get with Davidson is the polar opposite of former president and GM Doug MacLean--a guy who is going to put together a team to handle coaching, day-to-day hockey ops, etc. as opposed to a guy who wants to micromanage the details.  In that respect, Davidson is a manager's manager--a guy that builds a talented team beneath him and steps back to give them room to operate. Second, and equally important for franchises like St. Louis when he arrived and Columbus now, Davidson is more than capable of re-building fan interest. 

Keep in mind that the Blues were in a free fall when he arrived.  This was a storied franchise that had seen a record streak of playoff appearances end and become a perennial bottom dweller.  Their arena was half empty (at best) on most nights.  Which was something for a franchise that helped build the lore of Scotty Bowman who took the team to 3 straight Stanley Cup their first 3 years of existence.  They had the league's worst attendance in 2006-07.  But, not only did Davidson help bring in guys like Armstrong to turn around the franchise's on-ice fortunes, he addressed the team's attendance woes by a series of season ticket promotions.  The most memorable was probably this one--if the Blues failed to make the playoffs in 2010-2011, fans were not obligated to make the payment for the second half of their season ticket price.  The team didn't make the playoffs, but the fanbase was nonetheless reinvigorated.  I remember watching the Blues home games that year and being impressed with the resurgence of the fan base.  They were at 100% of capacity for the season, 7th in the league in attendance.

Davidson and his management team built the Blues from the goal out.  In his 6 drafts with the Blues, they took a defenseman in the first round 4 times.  Tired of their goaltending woes, they went out and swung a trade for Jaroslav Halak in the summer of 2010.  They followed that up the next off-season by making an under-the-radar signing of Brian Elliott.  When the team struggled out of the gate in 2011-12 (recall they seemed on a similar fate to the Jackets at that moment), the Blues management didn't hesitate and brought in former Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock to get the team's defense to perform as they felt it should.  The Blues turned it around and had one of the best records in hockey.

Again, a lot of the credit goes to Armstrong.  But Davidson deserves his due.  He was the guy who brought Armstrong in not initially as GM, but as understudy to Larry Pleau.  Given that Armstrong was nominated for GM of the Year, this apparently worked out pretty well.

He'll have a familiar set of tasks in Columbus to what he had when he arrived in St. Louis.  But clearly he loves a challenge.  What we can expect from Davidson is a polished voice coming from the top of the management chain--Doug MacLean without the snake oil.  He's also someone who is going to build a culture of accountability--there were other ways he could have boosted ticket sales, but the way they did with the "Playoffs or Bust" approach went a long way to building credibility with the fans in St. Louis. 

His biggest challenge will be what to do with the rest of the hockey ops team.  Don't necessarily expect Craig Patrick to disappear immediately.  Patrick may be crucial for Davidson to quickly evaluate Howson and others in the hockey ops department.  Davidson's success or failure ultimately will be determined by his decisions with regards to who he hires and fires beneath him.  If he pulls it off again with another franchise at the bottom of the standings he could be as legendary as that Scotty Bowman guy.

--Capn Cornelius

The Ownership Accountability Clock Has Stopped

With the announcement expected today, October 24th, 2012, that the Columbus Blue Jackets have hired John Davidson as the President Of Hockey Operations, the ownership accountability clock has stopped @

  200 days, 8 hours, 57 minutes, and 17 seconds

We would like to encourage anyone who has thoughts they'd like to share on this hire to please shoot us an email at PR@JACKETSFANS.COM and we'll post it!

Much more to come from FANS on this exciting news!


Friday, June 29, 2012

Playoffs or Bust

Much has happened in Jacketsland since F.A.N.S. turned in its petition to John P. McConnell.  The first thing was the re-signing of Todd Richards as head coach.  This was interpreted by some in the blogosphere of a direct rebuke of the demand of Jackets fans for a change in leadership at the top.

However, as is often the case with the Jackets, things may not have been what they seemed.  As the focus turned towards the NHL Draft, news leaked that John P. McConnel and current team president Mike Priest, had conversations with John Davidson, currently with the St. Louis Blues about the possibility of Davidson, who had an out clause in his deal with St. Louis, joining the Jackets as President of Hockey Operations, a move which would have seen Priest removed from decisions with regards to the team's hockey operations, focusing instead on the area he is actually qualified to handle--finances.  Despite some early excitement about the possibility, things have since cooled with Davidson still attempting to extricate himself from his contract, his out clause having officially expired.

The NHL Draft provided the Jackets with a potential franchise cornerstone defenseman in Ryan Murray.  It also exposed just how poor the franchise's depth in goal was with the Jackets trading for Sergei Bobrovsky and then picking 2 goalies within 24 hours...and still finding themselves needing another 1 or 2 pro goaltenders to start the season.

The Draft did not, however, provide the resolution to the Rick Nash situation that many hoped for.  If anything, the number of suitors for Nash seems to be dwindling, with teams like Philadelphia and Toronto already turning their attention elsewhere, San Jose seemingly disengaged after Howson's repeated demands for Logan Couture and the Rangers waiting for Howson's demands to decrease while focusing on acquiring Zach Parise in free agency.

Which brings us to today.  Here we are two days prior to free agency with no clearer picture of what the team's plan is going forward.  A plan which was allegedly hatched in January.  A plan which was provided first to Rick Nash...who thereafter demanded a trade.  While we are light on details, we are told the plan isn't a "rebuild" but a "reshape".  Come Sunday, we're going to have a much better idea what is meant by "reshape."

If what is meant by reshaping is rebuilding on the fly to compete not just years from now, but this very year, then we should see the Jackets very active in free agency in order to acquire a goalie which allows the team to send Steve Mason to the minors or the unemployment line and several forwards in order to rebuild the depth that has eroded over the last several years.  An additional depth defenseman that would allow us to ship off the contract of Marc Methot or to use another defenseman as trade bait for a forward wouldn't hurt either.  If reshaping means competing now, we should expect to see a Nash trade that is centered around players who can help this year or next rather than long-term prospects or picks.  A trade like the one rumored to have been offered by the San Jose Sharks included Joe Pavelski, and one or two roster players.

But, if reshaping is really just a euphamism for rebuilding cooked up by a Chicago PR firm, we can expect to see little done in free agency.  A small acquisition to fill out a roster spot or two.  A trade of Rick Nash largely based on picks and prospects.  Steve Mason still on the opening night roster as either the 1A or 1B goalie.

If reshaping is merely a rebuild by another name, then we can expect a similar result to last season in the upcoming season as a lineup of pluggers is sent out there to Join the get yet another lottery pick.  But if reshaping is really and truly meant to be something different than rebuilding, there should be one goal and one goal only--making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

From where I stand, it would be incredibly misleading for ownership and management to make a big deal about this being a "reshape" and not a "rebuild" if there wasn't a distinction, particularly after this past season.  Beyond that, Scott Howson himself has crowed that we are only a couple players away.  If so, then he should feel confident that he can achieve the low bar of building a team capable of making the Playoffs--something accomplished by more than 50% of NHL teams each season.  With plenty of cap space, and even more after a Nash trade, with at least one additional pick in next year's draft and with some depth on defense, Howson should have some pretty big bullets to get the couple players he needs to complete the puzzle.  His job starting Sunday is to do just that.  Failure is not an option.  It is Playoffs or Bust.