Moments after the Predators beat the Blues 3-1 Sunday to clinch a series victory, David Poile burst through the locker room door grinning ear to ear and ready to high five everyone in sight. The Preds are headed to the Western Conference Final for the first time in team history, and no one is more responsible for that than their veteran general manager.
The architect of the team since day one in 1998, this is not the ultimate goal Poile has dreamed of for this franchise. The 67-year-old wants to bring a Stanley Cup to this city and watch the parade down Broadway.
But the Preds' 4-2 series win over the Blues in the second round of the playoffs was a necessary step in the process, and one that had eluded this franchise for far too long.
"I saw him right after the game and you could see his emotions pretty clear," star goaltender Pekka Rinne said. "It was a pretty big moment for him, I'm sure. I've played here all my career and I've been just a minor part. He's been here such a long time and done a great job."
Poile has been at the helm for all 18 Predators seasons, weathering bumpy ownership and a near sale of the team to finally make the team a contender. He has been praised and criticized, but now he should be congratulated for his stewardship in a changing landscape around the team.
His first job was to make an expansion team competitive, and he, along with Barry Trotz, did that in relatively short order in what consistently is the toughest division in hockey. The duo even steered the team to consistency on the ice when things off the ice were anything but certain. For a fledgling franchise looking to put roots down in a community, winning records and playoff berths slowly but surely won people over.
Once a local ownership group stepped up to buy the Predators and solidify their spot in Music City, Poile turned his attention to making them more than just competitive.
Poile's plan included the hard decision to fire his good friend and head coach Trotz in 2014 in an effort to make the team more offensive. He hired a proven winner in Peter Laviolette, who had led Carolina to a Stanley Cup in 2006 and also took the eight-seeded Flyers to the Cup final in 2010.
Poile also began to pursue the missing pieces he felt had held his team back in past playoff losses. He fleeced Washington of budding superstar Filip Forsberg in the Martin Erat trade. He then traded away promising defenseman Seth Jones in order to acquire the physical, top line centerman the team so desperately needed in Ryan Johansen.
Finally, last summer, Poile shocked the hockey world by dealing longtime Preds' captain Shea Weber to Montreal in exchange for fellow All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban. The move to acquire Subban made the Predators younger, faster and more offensive. While it took a little while for the team's new pairings to adjust, Nashville seems to have found it's stride at the perfect time.
"You have to be able to take some heat and have some (guts)," Rinne said. "It's not a job I would want to do, so obviously, thinking about him, it's a great position to be in right now."
It's a position Poile had long dreamed of in Nashville and finally had the opportunity to go all in on with the Predators. The first round sweep of the Stanley Cup favorite Blackhawks followed by a second round win over the Blues is just validation for all of the hard work.
"It's been a long time coming," defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "We've worked so hard this year and had up and downs. It just seems to be coming together right now and that's a credit to every guy in here, but certainly he and everyone in our management have to be excited."
Everyone in Nashville is excited because of the team Poile put together and what hockey has now become in this city. Poile, more than anyone, deserves credit for that.
But he's also not satisfied with the job that's been done. In his mind, there's more work to be done.
The Predators are only halfway to the ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup.