NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) David Poile thought he could squeeze in a quick day off after the exhilarating run by the Nashville Predators to their first Stanley Cup Final.
At least 200 texts and emails congratulating him on the Western Conference title greeted him. Then Predators’ only general manager had to deal with logistics, tickets, hotel rooms and talk with league officials to prepare them for the Stanley Cup Final starting Monday night in Pittsburgh.
It’s Poile’s first Stanley Cup Final after 15 years as general manager of the Washington Capitals and nearly 20 years of building the Predators from scratch as an expansion franchise.
“After all these years I’m doing something I’ve never done before, and it’s different and it’s a challenge,” Poile said with a big smile. “But I’m ready for it.”
No general manager has been with his current team longer than Poile, whose father, Bud, won the Stanley Cup playing for Toronto in 1947 and is in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Next season, Poile will pass Jack Adams and Glen Sather as the NHL’s longest serving general manager, and only Sather has more games and wins (2,700 and 1,319) than Poile (2,622 and 1,280).
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Poile also was general manager of the U.S. Olympic team in 2014. But he never made it to Sochi after being struck by a puck in the right eye at a Predators’ morning skate, breaking his nose and costing him his vision.
Now, all across hockey, people are rooting for Poile to finally win a championship.
“The hockey community in general is elated for him,” said Brian Burke, president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames. “He has performed at such a high level for so long in this league and not been rewarded like this. He’s got lots of people pulling for him to go all the way.”
New Jersey general manager Ray Shero, who was an assistant GM in Nashville, said his own wife was in tears so happy for Poile and his wife, Elizabeth.
“I was saying to David, ‘Yeah everybody’s saying it’s so great for David, patient David Poile,”‘ Shero said. “I’m like, ‘David, you’re the most impatient guy know.’ He used to boo the team from our box in Nashville like, ‘David, you’re so impatient.’ He’d boo the team and say, ‘He’s brutal, he’s brutal.”‘
Poile just missed Washington’ run to the Stanley Cup in 1998 after his contract wasn’t renewed in May 1997. He had gotten the Caps to the Eastern Conference finals only once – 1990. Offered the Toronto GM job, Poile turned down the franchise with 13 titles to put together his own franchise in Nashville like his father had in Philadelphia and Vancouver.
“I just felt like it was the right thing to do,” Poile said. “I’ve never regretted it. There’s certainly been some ups and downs in this franchise whether it be on the ice or off the ice. But that’s never deterred me to want to go somewhere else or to do something different. Everybody’s treated me very, very well. I’m very comfortable, and it’s a legacy for David Poile.”
Poile and the Predators had to teach their fans hockey and grow the sport in a region dominated by college football and NASCAR.
In 2007, the Predators finished third in the NHL with 110 points. Poile’s big trade for Peter Forsberg netted only a first-round loss in the playoffs. Craig Leipold, who now owns the Minnesota Wild, put the Preds up for sale. Blackberry billionaire Jim Balsillie’s purchase might have gone through if not for news he already was taking season-ticket deposits in Hamilton, Ontario.
Fans rallied to keep their team, and local businessmen stepped up to keep the Predators in Nashville.
During the turmoil, Poile couldn’t re-sign Forsberg or Paul Kariya and unloaded defenseman Kimmo Timonen and forward Scott Hartnell.
The man who loves to plan triggered this playoff run with a handful of trades. He swapped defensemen Seth Jones and captain Shea Weber for center Ryan Johansen and All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban, while bringing back veteran forward Vern Fiddler during the season along with trading for Cody McLeod.
“He’s made some of the biggest trades in the history of the league, which is just so contradictory to his personality,” Burke said. “He’s this cautious guy. I joke with him that I’d hate to watch him get dressed in the morning, trying to decide which tie and which pants. But when it comes time to make these deals, this guy, he’ll shove all the chips in and stand up and yell at you. He’s fearless.”
Poile took his wife outside the arena before Nashville ousted Anaheim in six games Monday night. He saw thousands of fans bringing lawn chairs just to sit outside the arena and watch on big-screen TVs and marveled.
“It’s fantastic, the whole thing, the whole experience,” Poile said. “I can’t think of anything that’s ever happened better to me in all my years in hockey.”
Well, maybe one more thing.