NASHVILLE — How should David Poile be remembered?
It’s complicated. Poile, who will retire as Nashville Predators general manager and president of hockey operations on June 30, is the winningest GM in NHL history. He has been in charge of a team for 40 consecutive years, starting with the Washington Capitals in 1982-83. Such longevity is unheard-of in professional sports.
Poile consistently built competitive teams, many times on a shoestring budget. But he never won the Stanley Cup in 29 post-season appearances — 14 with the Capitals and 15 with the Predators. The closest he came was in 2016-17, when the Predators fell two wins short of a championship. It was Poile’s only trip to the final.
Locally, public opinion of Poile has fallen sharply over the past few years as he tried and failed to recapture the Predators’ glory days, which led to risky trades and questionable contracts.
The Predators will be paying Kyle Turris $2 million per season until 2028 after buying out the six-year contract they gave him following a November 2017 trade. They could certainly use an All-Star scorer like Kevin Fiala, whom they traded for Mikael Granlund in February 2019. Eeli Tolvanen’s breakout with the Seattle Kraken reflects poorly on Poile, who waived the first-round pick earlier this season.
To that end, Poile’s decision to step down is the most universally praised move he has made in a while. By his own admission, Poile felt it was time for a change. For the first time since 2014, the Predators are sellers at the trade deadline and are likely to miss the playoffs. Nino Niederreiter and Tanner Jeannot are gone, and others are sure to join them by Friday.
“Our play this season, to be honest with you, it makes me feel I probably have made the right decision,” he told The Tennessean. “It might be better for a new voice and somebody to take this team in a new direction.”
That new voice is a familiar one — Barry Trotz, who helped Poile build the expansion Predators from the ground up, down to picking out the carpet for what is now known as Bridgestone Arena. Trotz, who turned down coaching jobs to transition into management, will serve as an advisor to Poile for the next few months before taking over July 1.
If anyone can make the leap from the bench to the front office, it is Trotz, who has seen and done it all in hockey. Just as important is that Trotz has spent the past nine years elsewhere, including working with Lou Lamoriello in New York. Trotz’s standing as a franchise icon — and the fact he is not Poile — will buy him time to settle into the job and put his stamp on the team.
Trotz will have his work cut out for him. The Predators’ roster is filled with burdensome contracts. Roman Josi ($9.059 million cap hit), Filip Forsberg ($8.5 million), Matt Duchene ($8 million), Ryan Johansen ($8 million), Ryan McDonagh ($6.75 million) and Mattias Ekholm ($6.25 million) are all signed through at least 2024-25. All but Johansen are signed through at least the following season. Forsberg, 28, is the youngest of the group.
The Predators have historically struggled to draft and develop franchise-changing forwards. Trotz will have plenty of cracks at it after Poile acquired six total draft picks for Niederreiter and Jeannot, the latter of whom fetched five from the Tampa Bay Lightning in a Sunday night stunner.
The timing of Poile’s retirement announcement takes the heat off him at a critical juncture for the franchise and allows him to have a farewell tour of sorts.
Poile should be commended for turning Nashville into a full-fledged hockey market and helping to create indelible memories. But his legacy was at risk of being tarnished in town if he held on for much longer. At 73, he clearly did not have the stomach to oversee a rebuild.
Poile said it best to The Tennessean: “I think I’m doing the right thing for the Predators.”
It is now Trotz’s job to figure out how to guide the Predators back to contention.