If you are a hockey fan, there's a good chance you remember Herb Brooks's (played by Kurt Russell) speech from the movie "Miracle." He told the members of his 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team: "you were born to be hockey players, everyone of you!"
I can't help feeling that David Poile was born to be a general manager. David's father was Norman "Bud" Poile, who played for five NHL teams, including the 1947 Stanley Cup Champion Toronto Maple Leafs. Bud was playing his last NHL season when David was born, splitting the 1949-50 season between the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins.
David grew up in hockey's minor leagues with his family. Bud played a few more years in the minor leagues, but more importantly, began his move into coaching and management. Bud coached the Edmonton Flyers for nine seasons, winning three Western Hockey League championships. He then moved onto San Francisco, where he won two more titles in four seasons with that Western League franchise.
While it appeared that Detroit's Jack Adams was grooming him for the front office in the NHL, Bud got his first shot with an NHL expansion team as the original GM of the Philadelphia Flyers as they entered the league in 1967. The Flyers became the first of the NHL expansion teams to win the Stanley Cup - and they did it in back-to-back seasons in 1974 and 1975. By then, Bud had already put in the foundation for the 1970 expansion Vancouver Canucks. He was clearly a man on the move, taking a top administrative job with the World Hockey Association in 1973.
In 1976, Bud began his service as Commissioner of the Central Hockey League and later added the International League. He remained with the IHL until he retired in 1989. Upon his retirement, he was honored with the Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey in the United States. The following year, Bud was inducted as a Builder in the Hockey Hall of Fame. So, young David had ample opportunity to learn the business as the feet of his father.
While his dad was organizing the original Philadelphia Flyers team, David enrolled at Northeastern University in Boston, totaling 68 goals in his final two seasons there (in just 44 games). He had some professional tryouts as a player in 1970-71, but then moved into management, joining General Manager Cliff Fletcher as an administrative assistant with the expansion Atlanta Flames in 1972, and later becoming assistant general manager.
Video: David Poile is the NHL's all-time winningest GM
After 10 years with the Atlanta/Calgary Flames, David was hired as the general manager of the Washington Capitals in 1982. With many of his early years spent coming up with trade ideas, which he eagerly proposed to Fletcher in Atlanta, he was then empowered to make them on his own. He didn't wait long. At a league meeting in Toronto on Sept. 9, 1982, he put together a blockbuster with Montreal. He sent forward Ryan Walter and defenseman Rick Green to the Canadiens, and in return received future Hall of Fame (2002) defenseman Rod Langway, along with forwards Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin and defenseman Brian Engblom. Langway was stellar in over 10 seasons with the Capitals, winning two Norris Trophies. David will never forget the first reaction he got from the Capitals' owner.
"I hope you know what you are doing!"
The important thing to remember here is that Abe Pollin's reaction did not deter David from aggressively pursuing the improvement of his teams. He spent 15 seasons with Washington, a team that had never made the postseason, and the Capitals made the playoffs 14 times. In 1997, he was named the first general manager of the Nashville Predators.
David's aggressive nature led him to the biggest trade in Predators' history on June 29, 2016, sending captain Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban. That was perhaps the biggest one-for-one deal in NHL annals. He traded away No. 1 goaltender Mike Dunham in December of 2002, knowing that Tomas Vokoun could do the job. His trade for Steve Sullivan from Chicago in 2004 helped put the Predators into the postseason for the first time in club history. His deadline day move with the Washington Capitals in 2013 sent Martin Erat away for the extremely gifted Filip Forsberg, who was just a prospect at the time. This season's team may turn out to be the best ever in Nashville and seems poised to make the playoffs for the 11th time.
The National Hockey League has been around for more than 100 years now. Almost 200 men have served as General Managers in the League in that time frame. Some of them have had dynastic reigns: Frank Selke with Montreal and Toronto and Sam Pollock in Montreal. There are many accomplished men who have had teams that were almost always competitive: Detroit's Jack Adams, Toronto's Conn Smythe - who served as the Maple Leafs' principal owner, giving him great power as General Manager, to be certain. In more modern times, Boston's Harry Sinden and Glen Sather, of the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers have stood out as well.
The job has changed greatly over the years, and David has evolved along with it, both on and off the ice. The implementation of the salary cap in 2005 has complicated the GM's task. To assemble an NHL team today involves coordinating world-wide scouting efforts. Take a look at the rosters of NHL teams today, if you don't believe me. There is constant evaluation and re-evaluation as a player goes through his career. When a player is drafted, the job is not done. That player must be developed, either by staying a while longer with his amateur team in North America or Europe, or in the minor leagues, as the Predators have done since their start with the Milwaukee Admirals. That player may become a part of the drafting team, or perhaps an asset who may be dealt to improve the team.
You can tell how much attention David pays to that aspect of the team from this chat after the Predators' third season:
The general managers serve as the conscience and guardians of the game, working individually and together to improve and grow the game through rule changes and enhancements. All the while, their first priority is to maximize the chances of their individual teams; drafting, developing and acquiring players to form clubs capable of competing for the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup.
David has been the architect of the Predators from their inception to becoming the 2017 Western Conference Champions. He's received many honors, including the Lester Patrick Award for contributions to hockey in the United States, four times a finalist for GM of the Year and the GM of the Year Award winner in 2017, GM of the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team and a long-standing member of the U.S. National Team selection group.
He is the only GM in NHL history to lead two teams to 500 wins or more (594 with Washington and now 726 with the Predators). Now I take you back to the theme introduced earlier: David Poile was born to be an National Hockey League General Manager. Thursday night's 4-2 victory in Edmonton, where his dad was with the WHL's Flyers, helped David to surpass the total of 1,319 regular-season wins compiled by Glen Sather in Edmonton and New York. This is a record that should stand the test of time!