LAS VEGAS -- Ten days ago, David Poile walked onto the freight elevator at Bridgestone Arena. The general manager of the Nashville Predators stood silently on his descent to the bottom floor, with the Pittsburgh Penguins passing around the Stanley Cup on his home ice.
How much time has he spent reflecting on the Stanley Cup Final?
"Only," he said, drawing out the word, "24 hours a day."
He laughed. He said it's always that way when you lose a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda. But this was different, of course. The Predators were two wins from the first championship in their history. It was an incredible run with a crushing ending.
Poile has thought about how the Predators played without their No. 1 center, Ryan Johansen, because of a thigh injury. How they lost two games in Pittsburgh and came back to win two games in Nashville, only to lose the next two.
How a goal didn't count in Game 1 after video review because of an oh-so-close offside, how another didn't count in Game 6 because of a quick whistle and how the GMs might recommend rule changes.
The goal by Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist that broke a 0-0 tie with 1:35 to go in Game 6.
Everything in between.
Video: Reaction from the Predators on their cleanout day
"I thought we played great," Poile said. "I thought we had a chance to win. I thought there were certain situations within games where we could have got the game, and it didn't happen. As good as it is, it hurts to be two games short of winning the Stanley Cup."
In the big picture, though, Poile has felt more pride than disappointment. He is a finalist for the NHL General Manager of the Year Award at the 2017 NHL Awards and NHL Expansion Draft presented by T-Mobile in Las Vegas on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN).
Poile has been GM of the Predators since they entered the NHL in 1998, enduring ownership changes, relocation fears, even a flood. Finally, ownership stabilized. Finally, the ups and downs smoothed out. Over the past four seasons, the Predators went from missing the playoffs, to the Western Conference First Round, to the second round, to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time.
Along the way, Poile made the difficult decision to replace Barry Trotz after the 2013-14 season, the only coach the Predators had known, with Peter Laviolette. He made bold trades that brought in Johansen and defenseman P.K. Subban. He and his staff continued to draft and develop stars and support players. Depth was a big reason the Predators came so close to the Cup.
The Predators' playoff run energized Nashville and showcased it as a unique hockey market, country music stars singing the national anthem and giving special performances, tens of thousands of fans outside the arena watching games on big screens, enjoying the vibe.
"Probably one of the reasons why I'm standing here is that the franchise is really looking good both on and off the ice," Poile said. "It's really a good solid franchise right now, and you couldn't say that five years ago. …
"It's been such a special year for the Predators both on and off the ice, as the hockey world witnessed, especially during the playoffs. If there's such a thing as saying 'coming of age,' it certainly happened with our franchise this year. I've never been involved with a better experience.
"It really solidified our franchise, if you will, for I think years and years as to a lot of things -- our team on the ice, which is really important to me, and also the fan base and what a game looks like in Nashville, Tennessee."
Video: The success of general managers Rutherford, Poile
Now Poile has to keep it going and try to take the next step. He expects to lose a good forward to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. He might lose his captain, center Mike Fisher, to retirement. Expectations will be higher in 2017-18, and the competition will be no less stiff.
Yes, the Predators were deceiving although they finished with the worst record of the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs, considering they were one of the best teams in the League in the second half of the regular season, but they were last team in the tournament. They were close to missing the playoffs, too.
"I don't mind expectations," Poile said. "I think that should be good. But we all are going to have to have a reset. It doesn't matter now that we came two games away. When you digest it and you start in training camp, you've got to beat out 30 teams.
"So once again, the focus goes from, 'We're two games away from winning the Stanley Cup,' to, 'We've got to make the playoffs this year.' That's all that matters. I think with the parity we have in the League, that's where it starts. You're not guaranteed anything."
You know he will be thinking about that, oh, only 24 hours a day.