Poile's Pursuit Finally Leads Preds To Cup Final

Posted at 3:50 PM, May 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-28 03:03:52-04

It was a scene David Poile had watched play out over and over during his three-and-a-half decades as a NHL general manager; players and coaches celebrating on the ice with championship t-shirts and hats being distributed.

It was a scene Poile had never personally been a part of until Monday night, when his Predators defeated the Ducks 6-3 in game six, clinching the first Western Conference Championship in team history and a berth in the Stanley Cup Final against the Penguins (game one Monday 7 p.m.).

"This is the high for the franchise to this point," Poile said this week in the Predators' offices. "You don't have a right to get there just because you've been around, so this is quite a thrill."

As is hockey tradition, Poile and the rest of the Predators' front office and coaches, along with the players, refused to touch the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl after the win out of superstition that it will give them bad luck in the final.

Poile, however, made sure to have plenty of pictures taken to commemorate the moment. Even inviting media members to snap pictures next to the trophy following his availability.

"I don't know why we didn't touch the thing," Poile said. "We should've picked it up and raised it over our heads!"

It has been a long time coming for Poile, the only general manager in Predators' history. One of the team's first hires in 1998, he has spent two decades taking the Preds from expansion to relevance, building a consistent playoff team through uncertain ownership and the possibility of a move and, finally over the past few years, contender status.

Poile has successfully navigated each of those periods in team history, a major reason the team has been able to develop one of the best fanbases and home ice advantages in all of sports.

But he may have done his best job in building this team.

It was his decision to part ways with longtime head coach Barry Trotz after the 2013-14 season and replace him with the more offensive minded Peter Laviolette.

"His record speaks for itself," Poile said of Laviolette. "And his style fit with the way we thought the game was going."

And Poile has built a roster tailor-made to fit that style, meshing a mixture of homegrown talent like Pekka Rinne, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis with key acquisitions.

The blockbuster deal came last summer when Poile stunned the hockey world by dealing longtime Predators captain Shea Weber to Montreal in exchange for fellow All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban. The then 27-year-old Subban was four years younger than Weber, less expensive and provided a skating speed and offensive creativity better suited for the Laviolette system.

But it was a deal that Poile made more than five years earlier that allowed him to feel comfortable dealing his captain. Just before the trade deadline in 2011, the Predators acquired Mike Fisher from the Senators, and the veteran center became an immediate fixture as a top six forward and on the team's leadership group, giving Poile the confidence to hand him the "C" last summer.

"I think the best trade I ever made was to get Mike Fisher," said Poile. "His leadership has been invaluable and no matter what he decides (about how long he wants to keep playing), he will leave a lasting legacy of leadership with our younger players."

But Subban and Fisher are far from the only deals Poile has pulled off. He's shown himself to be savvy, fleecing the Capitals of budding superstar Filip Forsberg when he was just 18-years-old in exchange for an aging Martin Erat.

He's been prudent, acquiring James Neal, who's been one of the team's leading scorers the past three seasons, from the Penguins in 2014. And he's been willing to take risks, as he did when he traded top defensive prospect Seth Jones to the Blue Jackets last season in exchange for 23-year-old Ryan Johansen, a guy he hoped could and has proven to be, the top line center the Preds so desperately needed.

This postseason it has all come together. Depth, scoring, defense, spectacular goaltending, the Predators are rolling.

"We've peaked at the right time for the first time," Poile said. "And everybody's happy. Sometimes you walk into a locker room and you can tell some guys aren't as happy because of how they played or how much they played, but we have 25 guys that are truly happy because they've all contributed."

The Predators have taken the ultimate team approach in these playoffs, playing a record-tying 18 different forwards and getting goals from 16 different players. It's the team that Poile built.

And now after 35 years as a NHL G.M., Poile will finally get to watch his team compete for the Stanley Cup.

"Honestly, I did," Poile said when asked if he wondered if this opportunity would ever come. "Right now, it just all feels good, but I know there's still one step to go. We're not satisfied."

Poile's ultimate goal of bringing a Stanley Cup to Nashville remains four wins away. But at least for a few minutes late Monday night as he exchanged handshakes and hugs with Predators players and coaches following their win over the Ducks, he could sit back and finally enjoy the fruits of his labor.

His fingerprints may not be all over the trophy, but they are all over the team that won it.