John Davidson's years as a goaltender and broadcaster for the Rangers made him a natural fit for their president vacancy. But beyond his connections to the franchise, Davidson comes with the experience of rebuilding franchises in St. Louis and Columbus as the Rangers go through a remodeling of their own.
No situation is the same, but as Davidson embarks on the next chapter of his career, it's worth examining the moves he made at his previous two stops to help bring the Blues back to prominence and give the Blue Jackets their first taste of sustained competitiveness.
Former Madison Square Garden president Dave Checketts was part of the ownership group that hired Davidson from the MSG Network broadcast booth on June 30, 2006 as president of hockey operations.
When the Blues hired Davidson they were coming off a dead-last finish in the NHL standings, their 57 points the second-fewest in franchise history. Before the 2004-05 lockout, the Blues had made the playoffs 25 consecutive seasons.
There was a ton of work to be done to reshape the roster. St. Louis took some big swings in free agency early on, signing the likes of Bill Guerin and Manny Legace in 2006 and Paul Kariya in 2007. While they were no longer basement-dwellers, the Blues were going to have to build through the draft to truly improve in a Western Conference which in 2006-07 saw seven teams record at least 104 points.
So Guerin and Keith Tkachuk were dealt at the 2007 deadline (although Tkachuk would be reacquired later that summer.) Davidson and Co. had three first-round picks in the 2007 NHL Draft, and they grabbed Lars Eller (No. 13,) Ian Cole (No. 18) and David Perron (No. 26.) After missing the playoffs again in 2007-08, the Blues hit with the No. 4 pick Alex Pietrangelo and No. 34 pick Jake Allen.
Early in the 2008-09 season, the Blues acquired Alex Steen in a deal which sent Lee Stempniak to Toronto. Steen was a key cog for St. Louis for most of the last decade and is still playing a role as the Blues prepare for the Stanley Cup Final. St. Louis returned to the postseason that spring after missing out for three straight years, but they were swept by the Canucks in the first round.
The Blues were starting to turn a corner. They were competitive again, even though they'd miss the playoffs the next two seasons.
The 2010 NHL Draft was transformative. St. Louis took Jaden Schwartz No. 14 overall, and two picks later they selected Vladimir Tarasenko, an All-Star who has scored at least 33 goals in each of his last five seasons. That No. 16 overall pick was acquired from Ottawa in exchange for David Rundblad, whom the Blues had selected in the first round a year prior. Rundblad played parts of five NHL seasons before going to Europe. That summer the Blues also traded Eller to Montreal for goalie Jaroslav Halak.
At the 2011 trade deadline, the Blues acquired current Ranger Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart and a second-round pick from Colorado for a package which included Erik Johnson - the No. 1 overall pick made by the Blues right before Davidson was hired - Jay McClement and a first-round pick. They also traded Eric Brewer to the Lightning for a package which included a third-round pick in that year's draft.
And it was that pick, No. 88 overall, that the Blues used to select goaltender Jordan Binnington, the now-25-year-old who came on like wildfire for St. Louis during the regular season and has helped propel the Blues to their first Cup Final appearance since 1970. They also took Joel Edmundson No. 46 overall in that draft.
Davidson's final season in St. Louis saw the Blues win the Central Division in 2011-12 and finish No. 2 in the West with 109 points. They lost in the second round of the playoffs, but the Blues were finally back. After averaging just 12,520 fans during 2006-07, the fan base was reinvigorated.
A change in ownership saw Davidson get bought out in October of 2012, and within weeks he became the Blue Jackets' president of hockey ops. In his final draft with the Blues, they selected Colton Parayko in the third round.
The Blue Jackets made the playoffs just once in their first 11 seasons. Three months before he took over, they traded their superstar Rick Nash to the Rangers, bringing in Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, among others. The idea of turning Columbus into a contender seemed farfetched.
"I like the idea of the challenge," Davidson said upon being hired. "I mean, it's possible. In fact, it's something we're going to do."
He added, "We'll win our share. As we move along here, we'll win more than our share."
Columbus is now enjoying its best run since it entered the league as an expansion team in 2000. They just made the playoffs for the third straight season and won a playoff series for the first time ever, sweeping the NHL-best Lightning in the first round before losing the Bruins, who are in the Cup Final.
During Davidson's first season, which was only 48 games long because of another lockout, he fired general manager Scott Howson and brought in Jarmo Kekalainen, with whom Davidson worked in St. Louis. In trying to make the playoffs, Columbus acquired Marian Gaborik from the Rangers, dealing away Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore. Columbus would miss out on the playoffs because of a tiebreaker won by Minnesota. Gaborik was traded to the Kings the following March.
The first draft in the Davidson-Kekalainen era in 2013 saw Columbus take Alex Wennberg in the first round and Oliver Bjorkstrand in the third round. Wennberg was at one time considered a foundational piece and possible No. 1 center after putting up 59 points as a 22-year-old, but he had just 25 points this season and saw his role lessened by John Tortorella.
A shift to the Eastern Conference for the 2013-14 season, the first under the current four-division format, saw the Blue Jackets qualify for the playoffs for the second time in team history. They lost to the Penguins in six games.
Columbus missed the playoffs the next two seasons, but during that time it acquired what is now its top defense pairing. It took Zach Werenski No. 8 overall in the 2015 draft, and during the 2015-16 season the Jackets made a huge trade by dealing Ryan Johansen to Nashville for Seth Jones. The two defenseman have played a massive role in Columbus' recent success.
In the summer of 2015, Columbus acquired Brandon Saad from Chicago in a package which included Anisimov. Pierre-Luc Dubois was made the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, and in his second season this year the 20-year-old recorded 61 points.
The 2016-17 regular season was the best in franchise history as the Jackets recorded 50 wins and 108 points, but they fell to Pittsburgh in five games in the first round. They were helped that season by Sam Gagner, who turned out to be an incredible low-risk signing on a one-year, $650,000 deal as he put up 50 points.
Looking to take things even farther, Columbus traded Saad back to Chicago that summer and brought in Artemi Panarin, who had just put up 31 goals and 43 assists in his second season.
They'd make the playoffs again in 2017-18 after acquiring Cole and Thomas Vanek at the 2018 deadline. They won the first two games of their first-round series against Washington in overtime before losing four straight.
Despite knowing both Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky were most likely going to leave in free agency this summer, Columbus held onto both players feeling like now was their time to swing big for a Stanley Cup run. They brought in Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel from Ottawa and enjoyed that thrilling first-round sweep of Tampa, which was the favorite to win it all. They lost to the Bruins in six games, but Blue Jackets fans had more to celebrate over the last few months than they have at any time in the franchise's existence.
Now Davidson is tasked with leading another rebuild. Jeff Gorton and Co. have already gotten it started. They hope they have a young foundation up front with the likes of Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson and Vitali Kravtsov. On the back end they've acquired through trade or the draft Tony DeAngelo, Libor Hajek, Ryan Lindgren, Yegor Rykov, K'Andre Miller, Nils Lundkvist and Adam Fox. Prized goalie prospect Igor Shesterkin is also on his way, and Alexandar Georgiev has shown promise, so the Rangers could be set in goal whenever Henrik Lundqvist's days are over.
They will add a game-changer next month with the No. 2 pick in the NHL Draft, either center Jack Hughes or wing Kaapo Kakko, whomever the Devils don't take. They're also in position to add a top free agent, perhaps Panarin, someone Davidson knows well.
Whether they swing big in free agency now or down the road, the Rangers appear to be in good hands with the man affectionately known as JD running the show.