Quiet moments rare but valuable for Kyle Davidson as he settles into Blackhawks’ GM role

A congenital heart defect makes it especially important for Davidson to manage his stress levels, and escaping Chicago for the lakes that surround his hometown of Sudbury, Ontario, allows him to do just that.

SHARE Quiet moments rare but valuable for Kyle Davidson as he settles into Blackhawks’ GM role
Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson.

Kyle Davidson is entering his first full season as Blackhawks general manager.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

When he’s not doing the frantic, non-stop job of running one of the NHL’s most prominent franchises, Kyle Davidson’s favorite activity is sitting on a boat and fishing in one of the many lakes surrounding his hometown of Sudbury, Ontario.

It’s quite a contrast.

“I do love the big city, and I love traveling to [other cities] during the season with the team,” Davidson said. “But it’s always a great refresher just to get up to Northern Ontario, enjoy the great outdoors, do some fishing, do some hiking, just be by the lake and enjoy some quiet time.”

Since his promotion to Blackhawks interim general manager 10 months ago and to permanent general manager six months ago — two life-changing moments for the 34-year-old Canadian — carving out that time for relaxation and reflection has become especially vital for his well-being.

Doing so has always been important, though. Stress and anxiety aren’t healthy for anyone, but they’re especially problematic for Davidson.

That’s because he was born with a congenital heart defect known as Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), which — in spite of three open-heart surgeries — will always be part of who he is.

“It’s something that’s always there in the back of my mind,” he said. “To make sure I’m living right, eating right, getting good sleep and trying not to run too hot with the stress levels, which is sometimes a little tough in this position.”

Two of those open-heart surgeries came as an infant, and growing up in Sudbury — a town of 170,000 located about four hours north of Toronto — he was slightly restricted in terms of cardiovascular capacity but nonetheless able to play all the sports he wanted.

His TOF remained a relative afterthought as he moved to Chicago in 2010, right out of college, for an unexpected Hawks internship — it was a “pretty big culture shock,” he admitted — and as he used his versatility, innovativeness and salary-cap expertise to steadily climb the Hawks’ front-office ladder.

But right as Davidson returned from the Hawks’ 2019-20 season-opening trip to Prague, he received startling news from his Northwestern doctors: His pulmonic valve needed to be replaced.

“Honestly, I didn’t really have that much time to think about it,” he said. “It was, ‘OK, you need to get this done. Do you want to do it now, or do you want to wait a little bit?’ And by ‘wait,’ I mean like a couple weeks or a month, not years. I said, ‘Let’s get in, get it done and let’s start the healing process.’”

As someone with “full, full confidence in people in the medical profession,” Davidson insisted fear never crept in, and indeed, the November 2019 surgery was successful. As a silver lining, the following six weeks he spent recuperating — with help from his now-wife, Angelica — ended up giving him a head start adjusting to a work-from-home lifestyle. The pandemic began shortly after he recovered.

Although he’ll always have TOF, and checkups will always be on his yearly calendar, his heart should now be functional for good. He feels more energy when exercising, in particular.

Given his activity so far as GM, he evidently also feels more energy when negotiating trades. But while his vision for rebuilding the Hawks has been executed aggressively, Davidson’s own personality is more matter-of-fact and down-to-earth than aggressive and ruthless.

The significance and honor of the position he holds and of the power he wields is certainly not lost on him.

“Coming up, I didn’t ever think, ‘I’m going to be a GM,’” he said. “I just wanted to be in a front office and contribute exciting work. It’s not that I didn’t believe I could be a GM on my way up. It was more trying to be realistic with myself that there were 30 of those jobs. ... There’s so little opportunity, and the stars have to align for that to happen. It happened for me, and I’m fortunate and very thankful.”

Most invigorating about this role is the chance to do things differently than anyone has before. His investment in the Hawks’ analytics department and his hiring of assistant GM Jeff Greenberg — to help the Hawks build a new information processing system — already serve as examples.

The GM role, and his plans for the Hawks, have become something of a lifestyle for Davidson, too. After all, there aren’t many serene forests or fish-laden ponds near the United Center.

But entering his second season in command, he’s working on finding new ways to squeeze those needed moments of decompression into his routine.

“Whether you’re a competitive person or you just care about getting this right, it brings that level of pressure and stress that you put on yourself,” he said. “To make sure you’re...putting the franchise in the best position moving forward, you do carry that a little bit [with you].

“I do want to run 24/7, and most of the time, I do. But [sometimes] I have to take a step back and get away, whether it’s taking a couple hours off to watch a different sporting event or enjoying a night out with family or a nice dinner with my wife. And I maybe will shut the phone off.”

Hawks updates

  • Neither Patrick Kane nor Jonathan Toews have approached Davidson with trade requests and there’s “nothing new on that front,” Davidson said, despite rampant rumors about potential Kane trade destinations.

Both Davidson and new coach Luke Richardson have had “good conversations” this summer with the two veterans, and all parties are “excited to get to training camp and see how the season plays out.”

  • The NHL has been investigating this summer an allegation that eight men, including some members of Canada’s 2017-18 World Juniors team, sexually assaulted a woman in June 2018. Current Hawks forwards Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk were on that team. Raddysh posted a statement on social media in July that he was not involved; Katchouk has not yet commented publicly.

The Hawks are deferring to the NHL on the investigation but have been in communication with the league about it, Davidson said.

  • The Jack Johnson signing, which gave the Hawks six established NHL defensemen, will provide a “good presence in the room,” Davidson said. But it won’t block prospects like Alex Vlasic, Alec Regula and Ian Mitchell from earning NHL playing time.

“They have to earn their spot, and we believe they’re going to put their best foot forward,” Davidson said. “We know injuries happen, we know opportunities arise, and there’s going to be plenty of that along the way.”

  • The Hawks are still waiting for firm health updates on Jujhar Khaira — who finished last season on injured reserve after February back surgery — and a “couple” other players regarding their readiness for training camp, Davidson said.
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