Kyle Davidson pulled no punches when it came to discussing the challenges that accompany his latest promotion.
"You can't make mistakes, you can't slip up on any contracts now," said the 32 year-old more or less native of Sudbury (he was actually born just outside of Ottawa, but moved to this area with his family when he was three), who recently ascended to the role of Assistant General Manager of Hockey Operations with the Chicago Blackhawks.
"Everyone is so tight to the cap, there won't be any room for error anymore. Moving forward, you have to be bang on in your decisions as to who gets a long-term contract versus a short-term contract. You have to do all of your due diligence, and have a clear vision of where you are, in the present and in the future."
"That's a pretty tough job."
And it is exactly where Kyle Davidson wants to be.
It is the holy grail that danced around in the mind of the young man who attended Cyril Varney Public School, Churchill Public School and Lasalle Secondary School. It is a goal that he also knew would eventually take him away from his home in the north.
"I knew that I wanted to be involved in sport, and specifically, hockey," said Davidson, recalling his earliest years at Lasalle. "I wasn't going to make it as a player, obviously. It was time to make that transition to figure out how I was going to work on the team side of hockey. That's when I decided on the SPAD (Sports Administration) program (at Laurentian University), making it my target."
For the longest time, Davidson would list the Sudbury Wolves as his favourite team. He was more than willing to lend a hand in support of "The Pack", whenever the opportunity arose. "The love of hockey and the sport, and wanting to get into the business side was cultivated at the Sudbury Arena, at Wolves' games," he said.
It didn't take long at all for the mirage of the unknown world that Davidson so longed for to take form, displaying itself to him with a great deal more clarity. "I was pretty laser-focused on getting into hockey operations, right from the get go," he said. "That was my sole objective. Whether that came in the form of junior hockey or professional, I didn't really have that nailed down specifically."
"At that point, the only tangible thing that I brought to the table was a deep passion for the game and a willingness to do whatever it took to get the experience and build that knowledge base and skill-set."
There is little doubt that his time in SPAD provided strong foundational footings of business knowledge, as he honed highly transferable skills such as critical thinking and his problem solving abilities. The benefits, however, extended well beyond that.
"The unique aspect about SPAD that maybe opened my eyes to the world of sport was the fourth year internship," said Davidson, recalling his around the clock involvement as a primary organizer of the Bell Capital Cup in Ottawa. "I realized the kind of time commitment and dedication needed in the industry to not only get the job done, but to get it done well."
"That is still something I look back upon, to this day. It was the single-most important learning experience for me. It wasn't in the classroom, but it was something that was afforded to me by the SPAD program."
Within a few months of graduating from L.U., Davidson would begin an internship with the Rockford IceHogs, jumping aboard with the big club before the end of the year. "I thought that was a pretty unique experience, so I jumped at it," stated the eldest of two children in the family who moved to Illinois in 2010.
"From there, it was simply a series of picking up whatever jobs became available. I was trying to learn any aspect of the operation that was available to be learned." In terms of a full-time gig, that would come courtesy of working with the video team. And just as he had always done, Davidson would impress supervisors and co-workers alike.
"The front office gave me pretty incredible access and allowed me to experience almost anything that I asked," he confessed. "They made opportunities available and I would like to think that I made the most of them. Eventually, I picked up the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) management part of the operations, which kind of led me to where I am today."
"It started as an internship and kind of grew organically."
His biography on the Blackhawks website updated only a month ago, Kyle Davidson is preparing for his 11th season with the team. Pilfering from the site, "Davidson assists Senior Vice-President/General Manager Stan Bowman with day-to-day hockey operations tasks including player contract research and negotiations, salary cap management, salary arbitration, collective bargaining agreement administration as well as scouting at the professional and amateur levels."
Truth be told, that description is not at all out of line with the local man's own words as he describes the motivation that causes him to leap out of bed, each and every morning. "The general rules around roster construction and salary structures came fairly naturally (to me), borne out of my passion for learning how to build a roster," explained Davidson.
"For the most part, the "sexy" things in the CBA are geared towards roster construction. That was the part of the job that really, really intrigued me at the time, and still does."
It's a challenging role, perhaps, but a challenge that he clearly embraces.
"I felt that if I could get a really good handle on the CBA side of things, I could bring that administrative aspect to the team. Not a lot of people are specialized in the area of CBA or salary matters."
Not everyone is ready for a role that leaves little to no room for error.