NHL

Davidson rising to challenges in St. Louis

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TSN.ca Staff
10/31/2008 7:26:04 PM
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When former NHL goaltender and television analyst John Davidson took the job as president of the St. Louis Blues more than two years ago, he knew the club would go through its share of growing pains.

The team was coming off the worst record in the National Hockey League, didn't have a solid foundation of young players to re-build and also had to deal with a declining fan base in their own building.

Fast forward to the present day, and the team appears to be moving in the right direction. Through Friday, the Blues are tied for eighth in the Western Conference with a 5-4 record and have a promising crop of young players that should lead them to long-term success.

But there are other challenges for Davidson in his third full season in the Gateway City. The biggest issue for the Blues, like most other NHL clubs, will be the global ecomonic crisis. With the United States and other Western nations headed for a financial downturn, Davidson knows there will be a challenge to make hockey viable for the fan's entertainment dollar.

"The economy is tough, and if anyone says it isn't they're just not being accurate," he told TSN's Molson That's Hockey on Thursday.

"We may not see the effects for a while, either. A lot of people had their spending budget in place prior to our season. We sell our seats, we sell our corporate business, and we sell our season tickets starting in July. But from July through now, the world's been tougher on the United States. We have to really work at playing an entertaining game on the ice, having people coming to our arena and understanding that it's an event and having fun in the building."

Since the end of the NHL's lockout in 2005, the league and its 30 clubs have tried to make their players most accessible to the public than ever, something Davidson favours in a market that needs as much fans and sponsorship as possible.

"We have to respect the reality that it's a tough business world out there," he told TSN. "We have to make our players available to the sponsors and for the business people to know them. Our players in St. Louis have been great - flat out awesome. We mix with our business world, with our youth hockey - we have to sell. That's what we're in the business of doing." 

Part of that plan is putting together an exciting and competitive roster, something the team has had trouble doing of late. While the club has solid veterans like Paul Kariya, Keith Tkachuk and Andy McDonald up front, the back end has been taking more than its fair share of lumps.

Defenceman Erik Johnson, who was injured in a pre-training camp golf cart accident, is expected to miss the season, while 2008 first-round pick Alex Pietrangelo suffered neck, shoulder and knee injuries after a hit by Toronto's Ryan Hollweg. To top it all off, goaltender Manny Legace is sidelined after tripping on the carpet that was laid out for a ceremonial pre-game face-off featuring Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin last week. 

But there's a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, with Pietrangelo almost ready to return.

"He's close," Davidson told TSN. "He's been skating the last few days. Nobody knew he was going to be out this long. There's a chance he could play (Saturday) against Pittsburgh. If not, we go on the road this week and he's ready to go."

While the club hopes to have Pietrangelo back in the lineup soon, there's no guarantee that he'll stay for the season like fellow first-rounders Drew Doughty and Luke Schenn. The club's fourth overall selection could still be sent back to the OHL's Niagara IceDogs and would be a near-lock for the upcoming World Junior Championship in Ottawa.

"He's only played three games," explained Davidson. "Of course, we can use him in nine and we're going to look at Alex and try to figure this out. We know that he's a young player and we know that he has not had a lot of international experience and we know he has a ton of talent. We're going to evaluate this one properly to try to get Alex to become the very best player that he can become."

While the Blues are focused on the future of Pietrangelo, the club is also looking at an old fan favourite to help with the present. Free agent winger Brendan Shanahan, who played some of his best hockey with the Blues in the early 1990's, is actively exploring playing options with NHL teams.

"We put in a call to Rick Curran (his agent) yesterday and discussed a few things," Davidson told TSN. "Brendan just put himself on the open market yesterday so he has to field the calls as a group and then make their decision as a group as to who they want to reach out to."

Watch the full interview with Davidson on TSN.ca's video player.

Blues celebrate (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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