VANCOUVER’S ROB DAVISON: GRIT AND CHARACTER

by Ron Spence

Vancouver’s GM, Mike Gillis had been anointed for about five minutes when he stated:

“…I’d like to see grit, character….”

He then addressed his team’s needs on a couple of fronts. One was the acquisition of unrestricted free agent Dman Rob Davison.

The 6’3″, 220 pounder had been San Jose’s fourth round pick (98th overall), in the 1998 draft, and had played for both the Sharks and Islanders last season.

Sportsnet.ca says: “[Davison] Is a mountain of a man … Could be a major asset for any NHL club if used judiciously.

Flaws: …Is extremely limited in terms of his offensive capability. Can’t log big minutes.

Career potential: Utility enforcer.”

These comments are reflected in his stats: In 195 NHL games, Davison has recorded three goals, thirteen assists and 270 penalty minutes.

Mike Gillis knows what he’s getting. Up until this season, he’d been Davison’s player agent.

“He’s a tough, physical defenseman,” Gillis said. “When you play tough teams in the West you need players that can meet that challenge, and Rob is clearly one of those guys.”

The San Jose fans appreciated him as well. When Davison was traded to the Islanders, one of the Sharks’ more intelligent bloggers wrote: “Davison might not have been terribly flashy, but he was dependable and inexpensive.”

Ironically, it was when San Jose added some additional grit, that Davison’s days, in the Bay Area, became numbered.

With an injury to Ryan Clowe, the Sharks acquired heavyweight Jody Shelly from Columbus last January.

“Has mammoth size and is a feared pugilist,” wrote sportsnet.ca, “Loves the physical going in the trenches and is very popular with his teammates.”

Then, after expanding their grit, the Sharks brought in star defenseman Brian Campbell from the Sabres. He would be paired with Craig Rivet, and next on the depth chart, were Christian Ehrhoff, Matthew Carle, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

This left Davison and Doug Murray vying for the sixth spot, and the 6’3”, 240 pound Murray had been playing more. He had also been taking on an enforcers’ role, ending the season with eleven fighting majors.

“[Murray] Is an awesome physical specimen,” sportsnet states, “and loves to dish out bone-crunching hits. Can play an effective stay-at-home role.”

So Davison, having appeared in only 15 games for the Sharks, was traded at the deadline, to the depleted Islanders, where he would play in 19 contests.

Beside their number crunch, San Jose was also trying to help out their loyal Dman.

Sharks’ GM, Doug Wilson, a former defenseman himself, had been talking – off and on – with Davison about helping him jump-start his career with a change of scenery.

In return, the Sharks would acquire a seventh round pick, partly because Davison was becoming an Unrestricted Free Agent at the end of the season.

Davison’s new GM in Vancouver is equally supportive.

“I know him quite well,” Gillis said. “He needs an opportunity. He’s a tough, physical defenseman, who I have targeted for some period of time.”

“I think our guys need support [down low],” the GM continued, “and when you play against tough teams in the Western Conference, you need to meet those challenges.”

Davison has, in effect replaced Aaron Miller, who was making $1.5 million per season, compared with Davison’s $560,000 salary.

Miller was strong, but not tough or mean. He hadn’t had a fight in two seasons, and the year before that, only tangled with Anaheim’s Rob Niedermayer.

Sportsnet adds that Davison, “displays a big-time mean streak.”

So, Canucks’ fans can expect some major battles down low, especially against Calgary.

“[Calgary] are known for, grinding it out…,” Davison says. “That toughness, or that physical factor….”

In particular, Davison has a thing for Dion Phaneuf, whom he criticizes for hitting from behind.

“If he hit someone face-to-face,” Davison said, “I wouldn’t have a problem with it.”

Davison won’t be the go to guy, in the fisticuffs department, but a backup. Darcy Hordichuk will take on that role. Although not a top fighter himself, Davison has battled many of the big boys, and is highly respected.

Davison fights when he has to.

He describes what led up to his tilt with heavyweight George Parros: “The intensity of the game … When we get pushed as a team, we have to push back sometimes. That is all there is to it. Parros is a big boy, in that situation all you can try to do is get in close.”

So, Davison is exactly what his new boss is looking for.

Gillis also knows that Davison will fill the “character” role as well.

His character is reflected in his work ethic.

‘…he was a popular guy in the room and worked his tail off,” the San Jose Mercury’s David Pollak wrote.

“Davison is a great team guy who works hard everyday, and is popular in the room,” Sharks’ broadcaster Jamie Baker added.

Davison’s work ethic starts in the off season.

At the end of the 2007-08 pre-season, Davison reviewed his summer: “I tried to address some of the issues, maybe some of my faults from last season. I’ve tried to improve.”

Part of Davison’s character is shown by the fact that he chooses to represent his teammates. He was San Jose’s Player Representative, before being traded.

But, there is also another component of Gillis’ masterplan plan, which Davison can help to fill.

Bringing him in, as potentially a sixth man, means that the Canucks can shop one of their existing top Dmen, for a good forward, should Vancouver not land Mats Sundin.

And, with Davison’s cheap salary, they can afford a more expensive player, or two up front.

Gillis also mentioned that he is looking for “speed,” during his inaugural press conference.

Davison’s scouting report notes that he: “Needs work on his skating, especially the quick pivot.”

So, Davison won’t be bringing any speed to his new team.

But, he does have a quick sense of humour.

When Davison found out that he had been traded to the Islanders, he came into the Sharks’ dressing room and told the media that “he and coach Ron Wilson had ‘exchanged words and threw pucks and sticks at each other out on the ice before he was told to leave.’”

This of course, couldn’t have been further from the truth. The management, team and media were all happy that Davison was getting a second chance.

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