SPOTLIGHT: DAVID POILE & THE QUEST FOR A CUP
Founded in 1998, the league's 27th team has had enormous success in the Music City. After 5 long years in the expansion imposed basement of the Western Conference, the Predators have made the playoffs in 10 out of the last 13 seasons. An impressive feat for a fresh faced franchise in a non-traditional hockey market. And the man in charge of the roster, David Poile, has been there since Day 1.
the smashville experiment
Taking at look at the franchise since it's inception, we've seen a fan-base grow and overall fan-experience develop like no other in the Southern States. As a Canadian, it's easy to say we take hockey exposure for granted. We grow watching CBC on Saturday Night, listening to Ron and Grapes, grasping to news or highlights every other day of the week. Self-obssession with the sport is basically engrained in us since birth. So when Gary Bettman pushes forward a vision to grow the game in all corners and crevices of the United States, we're pretty uninhibited with our skepticism. How do you turn a sports fan that grew up watching Football, Baseball, and Basketball year-round into a Hockey fan when they've likely never skated on ice, let alone ever seen it before.
Two years ago I took a trip to Nashville, taking in a Divisional Matchup against the Blackhawks. I had no idea what to expect. What's the atmosphere going to be like? Is the fan base big enough to even sell out? Maybe there's enough empty seats I can move down to lower bowl? Needless to say, when I showed up I was pleasantly surprised. Not only were fans passionate about the game and their team, but the rink was set up perfectly on the edge of the downtown strip and opened its doors rights across from the famous Rippy's and Tootsies. Year's later, it longer a shocks me to see such such an electric atmosphere in Bridgestone Arena during their Stanley Cup run. Well done Smashville.
SO YOU WANNA BE A PLAYOFF TEAM...and win
The Predators may have been a playoff team, but that means nothing in this league if you can't get out of the first round. The Red Wings, Sharks, and Blackhawks seemed to have their number year-in-year-out as Western Conference strongholds. Yet this season something changed, David Poile appears to have finally pushed all the rights buttons with his team. Year's of high risk decisions, a cyclical draft strategy, and long term outlook have culminated in the team we see today and the one we may see well into the future. It's no surprise that opposing GM's are now looking at the Predators as a blueprint for success, especially when it comes to homegrown talent. Poile has managed to build a factory for puck-moving defencemen down in Tennessee through his commitment to the position via the entry draft. History speaks for itself.
Like clockwork, the Preds would nab a top young defencemen with one of their top-2 selections every other year. And more importantly, most of them panned out! Weber and Sutter anchored the blue line for years, Hamhuis has since become an Olympic champion, Franson is now a top-four mercenary, and Seth Jones was the all important piece that in nabbing the team's #1 centremen Ryan Johansen. Let's not forget about the three still on the team, driving the play from the back-end every single night. Add in first-team All-Star P.K. Subban from a blockbuster deal with Montreal and this top-four group has has grown into one of the strongest in hockey.
The Good ol' hockey trade
For a guy strapped by the same salary cap rules as everybody else, Poile continues to make headlines as a gambler willing to make the proverbial "hockey trade". Others may have taken a different route with the roster in front of them, but the Preds GM has managed to find willing trade partners in his quest for offensive cornerstones. This can be marked by three big deals that changed the outlook of this franchise.
APRIL 3, 2013
Nashville trades Martin Erat & Michael Latter to Washington for Filip Forsberg
JANUARY 6, 2016
Nashville trades Seth Jones to Columbus for Ryan Johansen
JUNE 29, 2016
Nashville trades Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban
The Forsberg trade was a prime example of 'Poile, the opportunist'. Washington was desperate to add a complementary scorer to the fold in an effort to make a Cup run. Little did they know they'd be handing Poile a future 30 goal scorer in exchange for an overpriced forward past his prime. Present day, I think we can all say this was one of the most lopsided trades in recent hockey history.
Suffering another early Playoff exit at the hands of a team with a strong #1 centre, Poile decided to assess the market once again in order to find his missing piece. Without a capable star in his pipeline, he dealt from a recognizable position of strength and moved his young, controllable, right shot defencemen for a developing #1 centre in Johansen. As a commodity most considered untradeable, Jones took his strong all-around defensive game to Columbus in a deal most coined as a mistake by Nashville. Instead this old fashioned hockey deal has filled a gaping hole on both team's; in Poile's case, the offensive punch down the middle he desired.
Just when you thought Mr. Poile was content, he instead decided to look into his team's future. Shea Weber was the leader of his defensive group, the most recognizable player in franchise history, a perennial Allstar and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, BUT he was locked in with the Predators until 2026, thanks to a rouge 14 year offer sheet handed his way from the Philadelphia Flyers back in 2012. At the age of 30 and predictable fall off set to kick in within 3-4 years, he decided to take a risk and deal his captain in his prime in exchange for P.K. Subban. This trade still confuses me from the Montreal side of things. A rabid fan base and tireless media coverage can turn anyone into a critic, but Marc Bergevin's job is to tune this out and make logical choices that best serve the team. Sure, Therrien and Subban may not have seen eye-to-eye, but in those situations the coach's job is usually on the line before the player. Either way, Poile saw an opening and took it. He saw a desperate GM who might turn a blind eye to the final year on Weber's contract, and went after a player that could provide an offensive spark from the back-end. Another shrewd hockey move that few would make.
Winner winner, chicken dinner
Although this last deal may look like a wash for now, with both D-men playing at such a competitive rate, the long-term outlook undoubtedly favours the Predators and gives Poile three big trade wins. Whether it's his flair for the dramatic or just a builders mind set in shaping his well-oiled machine, David Poile has proven his worth among the NHL's best. Stanley Cup or not, I know who I'd vote for as GM of the year.