Saturday, March 3, 2007

The One And Only JD

Being at MSG for today's reunion with JD was nice. That really was the only reason I went. I didn't really care about the end result because you already know what I think about this team's chances. So let's first make a point about that pregame ceremony for a man who became a symbol of the Rangers, making a smooth transition from goal to the broadcast booth where he quickly turned into the John Madden of his sport. No, not that John Madden.

First, congratulations to Davidson on being honored before the drop of the puck. It was very fitting and as usual, a great job done by the Ranger organization. When it comes to PR, nobody's better. They really made JD feel at home by showing a video tribute of his Ranger and broadcast career. And then presented him with a silver goalie mask and brought out former teammate Ron Greschner along with broadcast partner Sam Rosen. Even Sam's wife Jill came out to sing the national anthem, which btw was nicely done. They would do all this for a man who was terrific upstairs working with Rosen. Just imagine what this regime would do if they won an actual playoff game for the first time since 1997. Before you get sick contemplating that, here's our tribute to the man known to many as JD.

It's rare that you find a color commentator who is so adept at breaking down a game. What I loved most about John Davidson was his passion for the sport. He always cared and went to great lengths to satisfy the audience. And the best part was this lovable fan favorite did it with class. If you had the good fortune to run into him at a team function or outside the arena, he would always greet you and have a huge grin. You could tell how much he loved his job. There aren't many who had as much fun with it.

From teaming with Rosen on MSG to form "one of the premier broadcast duos" to working well with Doc Emrick on Fox and NBC's number one broadcast teams, he always was a breath of fresh air. He never made it about him either. Sure, he got excited and showed it with his signature, "Oh Baby" call during the Ranger '94 Cup run and other big NHL playoff games. But nobody broke down the game better. JD brought his wealth of knowledge to the air and let fans in during Hockey Night In Canada's 2nd intermission Hot Stove. For 20 years, he was the best in the business.

It took a lot of guts for the former St. Louis Blue to return where he was drafted and become Team President under former Garden CEO Dave Checketts. JD had a cushy job which was great. But with his daughters getting older, the former netminder decided it was time for a change. And so he decided to take on the challenge of turning around the Blues, a franchise which once made the postseason 25 straight times from 1979-80 thru 2003-04. But after deciding to unload franchise defenseman Chris Pronger prior to the '05-06 campaign, they struggled mightily in the first season since the lockout and missed the postseason last year- finishing 21-46-15 for a league worst 57 points which was one fewer than Pittsburgh.

Enter Davidson, who left the booth to return to the franchise which selected him fifth overall out of Calgary in the 1973 Amateur Draft. The first order of business for Davidson was selecting American defenseman Erik Johnson No.1 overall during last summer's Entry Draft. While Johnson promises to be a huge part of the club's future, Davidson dipped into the free agent market and signed veterans Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, Dan Hinote, Jay McKee, Martin Rucinsky, Radek Dvorak and Manny Legace. The moves were meant to give the team much needed experience as they gradually rebuilt around youngsters Lee Stempniak, Jay McClement, David Backes, Marek Schwarz, Jeff Woywitka, etc.

When the club got off to a poor start and looked headed for another high lottery pick, Davidson made a coaching change, replacing Mike Kitchen with former Kings' boss Andy Murray. Before he was axed, Murray's Kings teams always were very hardworking and overachieved. Since he took over, the club has made a steady climb up the standings and entered today's contest at MSG with a respectable 28-26-10 record, good for 66 points which placed them tied for 10th with Edmonton in the ultracompetitive West. That was also just a point less than ninth seeded Colorado. That kind of improvement under Murray speaks to how good a coach he is.

Despite several injuries to key vets such as McKee, Rucinsky, Jamal Mayers and Legace, the revamped Blues continue to remain competitive. Though they fell short today in blowing a two-goal lead with less than nine minutes left, they certainly were the better team for most of Saturday. But after Davidson got huge returns for Guerin and Keith Tkachuk, they're lacking some of that experience to finish games off.

The good news for Blues fans is that since taking over the hockey operation, JD has already improved the club drastically and set them up for a bright future with so many draft picks in the first two rounds this summer. Though this year's draft is not considered very strong, Davidson has given his club every opportunity to find a prospect under the radar who can help them out a few years from now. Having locked up defenseman Eric Brewer and re-signing Legace, the St. Louis Team President continues to work hard at improving his roster.

As he moves forward, good luck to him in helping bring respectability back to the Blue note. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention that after Davidson joined the booth for some of the second with Rosen and Joe Micheletti. Afterwards, the big man who has aged more in the last year than probably the last decade came out and greeted Blueshirt fans who were more excited to see him than watching this current team which at the time was going through the motions down two to JD's inspired club. As he made his way through, I went up to him and shook his hand for probably the sixth or seventh time and told him what a good job he's done so far with St. Louis. The big man smiled and greeted a few more fans before heading back to work.

And that's why I will always respect and admire this guy. Class to the very end. Cheers to you JD. You deserve it!

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