Why John Davidson Returning To TV Would Be Good For Hockey

john davidson

In a recent edition of his always excellent 30 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman posted the following about the future of John Davidson, now that it appears his days with the Blues are done:

Sounds like we're going to find out John Davidson's future in the next week. The Blues' sale to Tom Stillman triggered a 30-day window in Davidson's contract that allows him to look elsewhere. Stillman purchased the team on May 9. This is not a person who lacks options, including the opportunity to go back into television.
That last one, as I'm sure you would guess if you read my stuff, intrigues me. It's been six years since Davidson called a game on television, and his in-booth visits on national television, and even when the Rangers play St. Louis, have become less and less frequent. His voice is almost gone from the game, after a period of about a decade and a half where perhaps no one's tones were more associated with it.

Growing up, I don't think I heard any voice calling hockey more than John Davidson's. He worked games for FOX, CBC, ABC, and most importantly, perhaps for some, Rangers games on MSG Network, where he was part of one of the more famous local pairs ever. Particularly notable is their joyous call of the Blueshirts' 1994 Stanley Cup win, the last Cup ever broadcast on a regional sports network. But as valuable as Davidson was to the Ranger fans that beloved him since his playing days, he was an important person when it came to selling the game on national television.

It is often posited that John Madden is the best sports analyst in television history. I would offer up John Davidson as the best ever in hockey, at least of the past 20 or 30 years, and not too far down the list from the old coach. It's been six years since he last called games -- for OLN and NBC -- and his absence remains noticeable. No one, in my opinion, has been as good since he left the game. It's not an insult to guys like Eddie Olczyk -- who has lasted all six years on NBC since replacing him -- or Pierre McGuire -- the new "face" of hockey television analysts in the States -- but rather a testament to how great Davidson was.

It's a little difficult to put your finger on what made Davidson great on TV, but perhaps this idea does it well: He was never at a loss for words, but he knew when not to use them. Whatever stories Mike Emrick or Sam Rosen or Gary Thorne -- three of the game's great raconteurs -- could put out there, Davidson could match with an equally great tale of a player's background or newfound strategy, or just what's going on in the day-to-day world of the game. However, he would almost always cede to the play-by-play man, rarely ever speaking over important action.

But when he would talk, he would almost always teach, rather than go out of his way to criticize. And when I say teach, I don't mean it in a condescending way at all. He would always find some sort of information that the most diehard of hockey fans wouldn't know and drop it in on a broadcast. He even wrote the Hockey For Dummies book that you occasionally still see at Barnes & Noble. He won the Foster Hewitt Award in 2009 for his contributions to broadcasting.

His reasons for leaving TV and moving on to the Blues, no one could really blame him for. Here's an excerpt from a New York Times profile at the time:

But what motivated Davidson, as it must for players and coaches, is the chance to win a Stanley Cup, rather than calling the winning game each year.

"I'd done 20-some Cups, and you look down from the booth and it's fantastic," he said. "I enjoyed the Rangers' one; you almost felt a part of it."

Then he was in Raleigh, N.C., on June 19, calling Game 7 of the Carolina-Edmonton finals for NBC with Emrick. "They were going crazy, but the first two out of the arena were Mike and me," he said. "It wasn't a part of me."

He still hasn't completed that goal of being a part of a Stanley Cup, and it looks as if he still might be seeking it out, even if not with St. Louis. Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch wrote today that Davidson interviewed for the Columbus job. It's a tempting job to take, and it would make him legendary in Ohio if he could turn that club into a winner. But I hope I'm speaking for many hockey fans around the country when I say that it'd be great to see him return to the booth. There's been a void since he left, it'd be all too fitting if he were the one to re-fill it.

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