Michael Arace commentary: Jackets want to become what Blues are now
Ken Hitchcock’s St. Louis Blues rumbled into town and handily defeated the Blue Jackets 4-1 in Nationwide Arena last night.
For all practical purposes, the game was over midway through the first period. By that point, it was clear that these teams were operating on two different levels, like Bach versus Bacharach. Then they started fighting.
There are obvious connections between these teams. There is Hitchcock, of course, and there is John Davidson. It is the latter who must answer the ever-looming question in Columbus:
How do the Jackets get there from here?
Seven years ago, when the Blues were at their nadir, they hired Davidson to direct their hockey operations. Seven years later, they are a sturdy, well-oiled machine, expertly handled by an experienced coach in Hitchcock. They are among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Meanwhile, Davidson has moved to Columbus to tackle his next project.
“I think what the Blues did was they sat on their good, young players and built,” Hitchcock said. “I benefited from it some last year, and some this year, obviously. The foundation was already in place when I got here (in fall 2011). It’s a foundation of hard work, and I can see that coming in with the Blue Jackets.”
Davidson was not the sole architect of the Blues’ revival — arguably, general manager Doug Armstrong was more important — but Davidson was the overseer of an operation that went from last place in 2006 to contender in a span of six years.
The Blues’ rise was slow and steady, a fact one should keep in mind on these cold nights in the Arena District. If the Jackets are not at the beginning of this process, they are not that far out of the gate.
“The word we most used was patience, ” said Al MacInnis, the Hall of Fame defenseman who skated directly into the Blues’ front office. He is the team’s VP of hockey ops.
“It’s a process,” he said. “You go through the growing pains and let those kids develop, get three or four years under their belts, until they turn into good NHL players. It doesn’t happen overnight. The hardest thing is the league is so competitive and everyone wants to win now. Fans want to win now. But if you look at teams that last, it’s a long process of building through the draft.”
Among the Blues brought in under Davidson’s watch are five who came from trades, two free-agent signees and a parcel of well-chosen draft picks — Patrik Berglund, Alex Pietrangelo, Ian Cole, David Perron and Vladimir Tarasenko.
The Jackets have dedicated themselves to limiting whatever has plagued their system of identifying, acquiring and developing talent. It remains to be seen whether they will be successful, but, at the very least, minor-league Springfield seems to be in good hands, there is some young talent here in Columbus and in the pipeline. Most important, there are the three first-round picks the Jackets are holding for the next draft.
“JD oversaw the whole process of our rebuilding,” MacInnis said of Davidson. “He was there every day, week to week, year to year. He understands what it takes. It’s all fresh for him because he just went through it. He can do it again.”
There are more cold nights ahead in the Arena District, but at least there is something to watch — something oblique, but it is there nonetheless. Last night, JD’s handiwork was on display, as was the enormity of his current job.
Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.