Blue Jackets' John Davidson Reflects on Time Away from Columbus, Team's Future

The Blue Jackets exec discusses his departure and return, pandemic-era New York, Nick Foligno and the team’s draft plans.

Chris Gaitten
John Davidson, right, at a 2017 press conference with Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen

Something is bothering John Davidson, but not what you might think. “The only thing I’m not excited about is trying to find a damn house,” says Davidson, wearied by Central Ohio’s overheated real estate market.

It’s a fair complaint, though hardly the only problem for the Columbus Blue Jackets’ new-old president of hockey operations, who rejoined the team in May during unsteady times. Captain Nick Foligno was traded to Toronto, and coach John Tortorella parted ways. There’s uncertainty at goaltender, never-ending questions at center, unresolved player contracts and the NHL entry draft looming on July 23–24. Still, Davidson says he’s excited by the challenges and the promise of a somewhat normal season this fall.

The last two years were anything but normal. Davidson left Columbus in 2019 to take his dream job with the New York Rangers, but instead he got two truncated seasons and a city stricken by pandemic. Then came the Rangers’ controversial firing, and the Jackets rehired him for another go-round.

Obviously, your time in New York didn’t go the way you wanted. Do you have any regrets?

No, no, I don’t work that way. … So no, no regrets. I don’t have any regrets with anything I’ve done in my life. It’s been a great 48-year run regarding the NHL, and I’m excited as can be to be here in Columbus and to be part of the Blue Jackets again.

There’s been talk of whether the team will reload or rebuild. Do you feel any pressure to win more quickly this time around?

All I want to do is win, and I’m not going to take any shortcuts as a man that’s part of the management group. No shortcuts allowed. Let’s make decisions that are right for this club long term, and if it takes six months or longer, that’s what we’re going to do. … I think going into this upcoming season, there will be a lot more normalcy. There’s hasn’t been any normalcy for two years. And so I think we’re all pretty excited that things with the pandemic are going in the right direction. We were living in New York, and it was awful. There was death in the air. I personally knew five people that passed away from the COVID. And anybody that didn’t respect what COVID can do to you, you’re dreaming. This is a nasty thing, and now to see that things are going in the right direction—it’s really remarkable that a vaccine can do that.

Do you plan to use your three first-round draft picks to stock up on young talent or for a trade?

The No. 5 pick is a big pick for us. The other two in the first round, anything goes. Anything goes. You have to remember there’s [also] an expansion draft coming up, so there’s going to be all kinds of trades happening, and those two picks are very valuable for us.

Does bringing back Nick Foligno fit with your vision for the team?

Nick’s been a great Blue Jacket. He’s very well-respected. He’s done really good things on the ice, off the ice. He draws the team together. He’s the type of player you want to have here. Now whether or not Nick wants to come back, that’s all going to be sorted out, on both sides. … I’ve been in touch with him through text a number of times, just wishing him well up in Toronto.

Seth Jones is reportedly on his way out, which would make him the most recent star to leave. What do you attribute those departures to?

I think every situation is different. [Artemi] Panarin wanted to go to a large city, which he did. He went to the largest city, in New York. [Sergei] Bobrovsky wanted a real long-term contract, at big money, and that’s exactly what he got. And he went to Florida to do it. … Alex Pietrangelo was a fine defenseman in St. Louis. They won the Cup, and he was their captain. He ended up going to Vegas. These are just things that happen. John Tavares, the centerman with the Leafs in Toronto, was the captain of the Islanders. He decided to move. So that’s their right, and I respect that as a former player.

We’re not Chicago—regarding the city—we’re not New York or Los Angeles, but we’re Columbus. Columbus is a terrific place to play and live. It’s a great facility. There’s a lot of really good things here, and we’ll keep on talking about that and make people aware of it.

This story is from the July 2021 issue of Columbus Monthly.