David Poile’s resume is second-to-none.
General manager of the Nashville Predators, the Toronto, Ontario, native has served as the GM of the 1998 and 1999 U.S. National teams and the 2014 U.S. Olympic team. He’s won the Lester Patrick Trophy, which is awarded for outstanding service to the sport of hockey in the United States, has been a three-time recipient of the Sporting News’ Executive of the Year and a four-time finalist for the National Hockey League’s GM of the Year.
But there’s one thing that has eluded Poile over his 35-year career in the front office: a Stanley Cup. Poile now stands at the helm of the Western Conference Champion Nashville Predators just four wins away from hockey immortality.
“The whole experience is… I don't know; I can't think of anything better that's ever happened to me in all my years in hockey,” Poile told reporters May 24 at Bridgestone Arena.
The Predators are seeking to become the seventh expansion franchise to win a Stanley Cup on their first attempt, joining the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Preds have made quite a bit of history during their run to the Cup. In the first round, they became the first No. 8 seed in NHL history to sweep a No. 1 seed. In the second round, they knocked off the St. Louis Blues to earn a trip to the first Western Conference Finals in franchise history. Then, on May 22, they eliminated the Anaheim Ducks, sending the team to its first-ever Stanley Cup Finals. They are now four wins away from joining the 2012 Los Angeles Kings as the only team to win a Stanley Cup as an 8-seed and the very last wild card spot.
“I'm fortunate to be here working and fortunate David Poile gave me a job,” coach Peter Laviolette said following Nashville’s 6-3 win over Anaheim. “I've got such a great group of guys in the locker room that I get to work with every day and the coaches I get to work with every day. That's what we've pretty much done this year: all of us tried to go to work and tried to get better. [Now] we find ourselves in the position we're going to play for the Cup.”
“I think we’ve affected so many people in our city in such a positive way,” Poile added. “If I want to be proud of something, I think that would be it. From my near 20 years here, this is the vision that I had: to be successful on and off the ice. The other night, when we won the conference title, we saw that in the faces of our players and coaches, our family, our fans, and our franchise and city — it seems to me to represent everything I ever wanted when I came to Nashville.”
With a young core in place from last season, a defense that would make any other GM in the league salivate and a goaltender who is a several-time Vezina Trophy finalist, Poile knew this roster was good and just shy of being great.
P.K. Subban celebrates an empty net goal against the Anaheim Ducks. Photo by John Russell/NHLI.
Enter P.K. Subban. In June of 2016, Poile made perhaps the gutsiest – and most controversial – trade of his career when he shipped captain and franchise cornerstone Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadiens for Subban. And now, it appears that Poile has been 10 steps ahead of everyone else this entire time.
“When I got traded, I said I believed that I was going to have a tremendous opportunity to win a Stanley Cup with this team, and I maybe got a little bit of slack for it, but I believe in this dressing room,” Subban said. “What first kind of solidified it for me was after I first had the conversation with David Poile and Laviolette. They embraced me and just wanted me to come in and do my job and be an important part of helping this team win. But we’re in this position because of everybody. It’s unbelievable; I’ve never been on a team that works as hard for each other as these guys do. And it shows.”
For the city, the franchise, the players and especially the fans, this feeling and these memories are difficult to put into words — it’s hard to describe something 20 years in the making.
“It’s crazy,” forward Austin Watson said. “We’re super excited. It’s an incredible accomplishment for this organization and for us as a team. This is something pretty special. This is a special group, and we’ll get right back to work in a couple of days.”
“(It’s an) amazing feeling, obviously,” goalie Pekka Rinne added. “It's a dream come true. But it's a funny thing, though. [With] everything that is happening around us, you still feel hungry, and now we have a chance to play for the Cup. It's a pretty amazing feeling. You've been working for that for a long, long time. I feel like the last number of years we've been going that direction, building this team and having more depth. With these guys and the adversity we've been facing the last few days, amazing response.”
As the players mentioned, this Cup run didn’t come without its adversity. In Game 4 of the conference finals against Anaheim, the Preds lost their first postseason game on home ice in their last 11 tries. In fact, their last playoff loss at home came against these very same Ducks last year.
Colton Sissons celebrates with teammates after scoring during the third period. Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images.
In addition to losing the home-ice advantage they had stolen in Game 1 at the Honda Center, Nashville lost two key pieces of a team that looked primed to make a run at the Cup finals.
Mike Fisher suffered an upper-body injury toward the end of Game 4, while Ryan Johansen had season-ending surgery for acute compartment syndrome – a condition where pressure builds up in muscle tissue and reaches dangerous levels.
Down its top two centermen — their captain and leading scorer — the Preds had to dig deep to find the resilience to carry on. They turned to second-year center Colton Sissons to fill the void on the top line. And Frederick Gaudreau, who spent most of the year with the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville’s minor league team), suddenly found himself centering a playoff line in the middle of the Western Conference Finals.
The two young guns did their part. And more. Gaudreau won 10 of his 14 face-offs (71.4 percent) in Game 5, and was the only Predator to win greater than 50 percent of his faceoffs. Sissons assisted on the game-tying goal in the same game, and then for an encore, scored just the second playoff hat trick in franchise history to ice the game — and the series — for Nashville.
“We lost two centers and had to change a couple of things,” defenseman Roman Josi said. “I thought Sissons has been great for us all playoffs, and he really stepped up big time in all the games. He’s done a great job. The same with Gaudreau. He’s coming in in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s not easy to come in a playoff game like that; he did an amazing job.”
“Obviously, I don't think I even dreamt this moment — scoring a hat trick in a Western Conference-clinching game,” Sissons said. “I can't speak enough for just our whole group. We've been through some challenges together, and we stuck together no matter what, just believed and here we are.”
Nashville has finally burst through the glass ceiling that many in the national media tried placing on them. Gone are the days of players and coaches having to answer the question of “is Nashville a hockey city?”
“Nashville has really taken on a life of its own,” Laviolette said. “I think the downtown and the energy that's down here, I think our fans who have been so supportive for so many years, especially the last couple of years in the Playoff runs that we've had, the energy that they bring into the building — you guys see it just like we feel it on the bench. It goes to a level that I'm not sure goes anywhere else in the National Hockey League. Our fan base and our team has a terrific relationship.”
Michael Gallagher covers the Preds for On The Forecheck. Follow him on Twitter: @mpatrickg5.
Cover photo: The Predators celebrate a 6-3 series-ending win against the Ducks in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals. Photo by John Russell/NHLI.