It’s fitting that upon being honored for setting a new NHL standard for the most victories by a general manager, David Poile deflected the praise to his teams and the people that have helped him over the course of his 36 seasons as a GM.
At a ceremony in Nashville on March 8 that featured NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Predators Chairman Tom Cigarran, and his first team captain (Rod Langway from the 1982 Washington Capitals) as well as multiple family members, Poile characteristically thanked his supporting cast.
“To win in this game, everybody has to be on the same page — the players, the coaches, the hockey ops, everybody in our organization has to be going in the same direction,” Poile said during the ceremony. “And I’m really proud that I’m being honored for this recognition, but it really is a team award. Without everybody that has helped me along the way, this doesn’t happen. So on behalf of every coach that has worked for me, every player that has played for me, the office staff, the scouts, my assistant manager Paul Fenton, everybody, it’s been an unbelievable ride.”
Poile has always been known as a good guy who treats people with dignity and respect, and that is also reflected in the fact that he has employed just five total head coaches over the 15 years he was GM of the Washington Capitals (1982-97) and the 21 he’s been at the helm in Nashville (since the club’s founding in 1997 before its first game in ’98-99).
As impressive as his long tenure as a GM is, having just five coaches over 36 years is simply remarkable in the age of win-now sports. Bryan Murray coached the Capitals from before Poile was hired until 1990, then Terry Murray took over from 1990-94, followed by Jim Schoenfeld from ’94-97. Poile hired Barry Trotz as Nashville’s first coach in 1998 and he was behind the bench until 2014, when Peter Laviolette took over.
“It’s honestly one of the things that I’m most proud of,” Poile said of his coaching history. “In sports in general where the stability for coaches and managers has never been the strong suit, I like that. There’s an old saying, ‘Good hiring prevents firing,’ but I think it actually goes more than that — it’s working as a team and taking responsibility as a group. When things are going well, credit should be spread around to lots of people and when things aren’t going so well, I think the blame has to be shared, and I think when you do that, you can often avoid doing something as drastic as changing a coach or a manager. And I’m proud that I’ve only had like three or four assistant GMs.”
The Predators’ 4-2 win over Edmonton on March 1 represented the 1,320th regular season win of Poile’s career, surpassing the 1,319 amassed by Glen Sather with Edmonton (1980-2000) and the New York Rangers (2000-15). Poile won 594 games with the Capitals, and as of March 14, 731 (and counting) with Nashville.
Poile, 68, is also the NHL’s longest-serving GM ever, surpassing the 35 seasons of Sather and the legendary Jack Adams (Detroit, 1927-62). Of course, both of those men also won multiple Stanley Cups during their careers, while that honor has managed to elude Poile so far. The Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final last spring was the first time one of his teams advanced that far (only the 1990 Capitals had even reached the Conference Finals), but with Nashville battling for the Western Conference lead, it likely won’t be his last shot at it.
“That’s what we’re all in the business for, that’s the ultimate definition of success, to win the Cup,” Poile said. “There’s been a lot of good things done by a lot of hockey people that have not won the Cup, but that’s certainly still my goal. If I can get 16 wins in the playoffs in one year, that would be perfect.”
Poile, who won the NHL’s General Manager of the Year award last season, has built the Predators into a league powerhouse, thanks to astute drafting, patient player development and several bold, blockbuster trades. While many had seen him, especially during Nashville’s first few years in the league, as primarily a draft-and-develop disciple, his recent trades, which brought in such key contributors as P.K. Subban, Ryan Johansen and earlier this season, Kyle Turris, have helped push the Predators among the league’s elite.
“I think it’s too hard to pinpoint whether you’re just a drafter or a trader. I think hockey’s a little bit of everything and you’ve got to deal with what you’re presented with in the circumstances you’re working under,” Poile said of his philosophy. “You could be a team that has lots of money, you could be a team that doesn’t have a lot of money, you could be an established team, you can be an expansion team. It varies. In my 35 years, I’ve been all over the map in terms of the circumstances.”
Poile’s evolution as an NHL executive, a process that began back in 1972 at age 22 when he was hired by the expansion Atlanta Flames as an administrative assistant and continued when named the Flames’ assistant GM in 1977, can be traced back to the influence of his father.
Bud Poile played 311 games over seven NHL seasons and coached minor league teams for many years, before serving as the original general manager for the expansion Philadelphia Flyers from 1967-69 and as GM of the expansion Vancouver Canucks from 1970-73. He went on to become the executive vice president of the old WHA, then the president of the Central Hockey League and later the commissioner of the International Hockey League until he retired in 1989. He passed away in 2005.
“An immeasurable amount,” Poile said of his dad’s impact. “Hockey was our life in the Poile family. He drank, slept, hockey 24/7. Early memories of my dad as a coach are going to practice with him, hanging out in the dressing room, being a stick boy, traveling with my dad on occasional trips, going to drafts with my dad, meeting hockey people. A huge, huge influence for the love of the game and the passion. You pick up things along the way, how he handled situations and how he handled people, what his personality was like, all those things are immeasurable today.”
Over the years, Poile has also been heavily involved with USA Hockey. He served as the GM for Team USA at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter games, where the Americans finished fourth, and was also part of the management group for the team that won silver at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. Poile also served as Team USA GM at the IIHF World Championships in 1998 and 1999, and as associate GM in 2009 and 2010.
He is also a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee (since 2014) and has served on the NHL’s Competition Committee since its inception in 2005 coming out of the lockout, both responsibilities he takes very seriously.
Poile’s father was inducted in the Hall as a builder in 1990 and, especially now with the GM wins record, it is only a matter of time before he himself is so enshrined.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.