The Rangers opened the new season Thursday night at Madison Square Garden with a stirring victory, as veteran stars meshed with a blossoming group of young players. They also have a new team president in John Davidson — once the Rangers’ star goalie and then a celebrated TV commentator. JD returns to New York after creating winners in St. Louis and Columbus. He sat down with The Official MSG Blog to describe his vision and a resolve to stick to a building process already in motion.
How would you frame the state of the Rangers?
I look at it this way: It’s like buying a house. The bones of the house are pretty good, but you’ve got to fix up some rooms and make updates. I inherited a great situation. The organization already had a game plan in place and a strong foundation. The key now, even as you bring in new ideas and stay flexible, is not to fluctuate from the plan no matter how trying it gets. These things take time to accomplish and you’re going to be tested, so patience is critical.
The team has been transparent with fans about creating a blueprint for long-term success. How unusual is that?
Watching from afar, I thought it was a great idea. It showed the depth of commitment to doing things the right way. If you’re not a hundred percent committed, there’s no sense of doing it. In a place like New York, where people have high expectations, it’s important to let fans know what our strategy is. We want the fans to be with us as we develop, to have the feeling that we’re all in this together, that we are building toward something special.
What are your expectations for this season?
A new year always comes with questions, and with a young team, that’s especially so. Some players need a short time to come into their own. Others need a few years. Will Kaapo Kakko, our first round pick this year, pop? Will Adam Fox? And that goes for players who are not on our opening roster like Filip Chytil, and Vitali Kravtsov. Who will emerge as our second line center? Do we find the right power play combination?
It’s not easy to say goodbye to favorite players, but we thought it best to trade away some veterans and not re-sign others. We brought in a number of pieces, from Artemi Panarin, a great scorer, to defenseman Jacob Trouba.
That’s what makes this all so exciting. We’re in the discovery stage. Are we going to make the playoffs? We could, but this is where patience comes in. It’s a work in progress that we must not rush. The most important thing is that we continue to go in the right direction, that we keep on heading north.
With so many young, talented players, there seems to be something organic about the way the club is building a new core.
That is absolutely true. They’re going to grow up representing New York as a Ranger and once that’s in your blood, it’s there forever. They will have Ranger blood going right through their veins, and that’s awesome.
If we could look through the eyes of all these young players, what would we see?
This is a fruition of a dream. They have dreamt about the NHL and for many, the Rangers and Madison Square Garden. And some have come across the globe for the first time. Kakko is just 18 years old and from Finland. Libor Hajek is 21 and from the Czech Republic. And for players like Fox, just 21 and from Long Island, playing close to home carries its own challenges.
With all the experiences you’ve had, does it go without saying that you’re smarter now than you were in your playing days?
If not, then shame on me. You have to remember, there are other smart people around the league, so you can never sit back and congratulate yourself for doing a good job. You have to keep moving forward, and for that you need to surround yourself with good people. We have that in general manager Jeff Gorton, Chris Drury as well as head coach David Quinn and his staff. And we have great support from ownership, which frees us to do our jobs. Together, they have created a culture that demands success.
What does a good culture look like?
A big part of it is establishing an atmosphere with leaders who can mentor and set the right examples. There is a reason Henrik Lundqvist is playing at a high level at 37. Other guys can see how hard he trains. They can see how Mika Zibanejad has transformed and worked at his game. You can preach, but nothing hits home like players setting examples.
What are the attributes you bring to the job?
A little bit of everything. I like working with people, and I like creating a good environment. I want to have people who want to play here. It’s hugely important to me to create a family atmosphere. In this business, you get curve balls every day, good stuff and bad stuff, and you have to provide leadership in dealing with the curves. You have to keep a sense of calm.
Moving to the broadcast booth gave you a perch above the ice. Did that help you see the game in a new way?
Actually, it was what I did before each game as a broadcaster that helped me. I talked to players, coaches, executives and other broadcasters, and I was able to cherry-pick ideas. If you’re trusted, you can learn a lot of do’s and don’ts along the way.
Finally, on the day last May when you were re-introduced to New York as the Rangers’ new president, you were openly emotional about your return? Now that the season is here, how do you feel?
I’ve had my day of being emotional. It has now settled in that I’m back, and now it is just about the process, to keep the trajectory north. It may not be headline-grabbing, but that’s what I’m about, and that’s what this organization is about.
For a look back at JD’s return home, Click here.
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