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Not Just a Number: Poile Collects Monumental Victory

by Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

It was October of 1982 when David Poile collected his first win as an NHL general manager. Victory No. 1,171 came on Dec. 16, 2014. Sure, it’s just a number, but it’s a big one.

Monumental enough, in fact, to put him in sole possession of second place in all-time victories by a League GM.

For a man who has been at the helm of an NHL franchise for 32-consecutive seasons, beginning with the Washington Capitals in 1982, and then in Nashville since the Predators’ inaugural contest 16 years ago, the mark was hardly a thought leading up to Tuesday’s shootout victory over Boston.

“It wasn’t on my mind [until I kept reading] it in the notes every game,” Poile quipped.

But when Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne stopped Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron to secure the milestone triumph, Poile admits that there was time for reflection over his career, a career that has spanned five different decades in the highest level of professional hockey.

That course almost took a much different turn in 1997. Poile received another offer from an established NHL club rooted in history, but something felt right about accepting a challenge in Music City with the expansion Predators.

“When I made my decision to come to Nashville versus going to this other team, everybody said ‘Why?’ but to me, it just felt like this was the right place,” Poile said. “It felt comfortable to me and my personality, my style, and I also think that I’m a builder. The goal has never been to see how many wins [I could get], the ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup; I get that, but within that goal is having a successful franchise, on and off the ice, in Nashville, Tennessee.

“That really was my purpose and my motivation to come here was to be part of something from the beginning. For good or bad, I’ve got my handprints all over everything that’s happened in this organization.”

One of the more recent organizational moves was the appointment of Peter Laviolette to the head coaching position. No stranger to the NHL himself, Laviolette was quick to recognize the GM and his longevity within the game.

“There’s a reason you stay in this business a long time,” Laviolette said. “It’s an easy business to be bounced around in, and it’s an easy business to be bounced out of. The fact that he’s maintained a position as a general manager for so many years and had the success he has, I think it really reflects back to him and speaks volumes to him as a person, a general manager and a leader.”

Poile learned those leadership qualities at an early age in the business. Only 33 when he was hired in Washington, the now three-time General Manager of the Year nominee quickly came to the realization that success wasn’t going to come alone.

When Poile took the Capitals GM position in 1982, the club had never made the playoffs. During his 15 years in D.C., the team saw postseason action in 14 different campaigns.

“When I first got my job in Washington, I was all excited about the job…but everybody else in the organization was down because things had been so bad,” Poile said. “I truly believed, which turned out to be accurate, that if we could get a competitive team, with the hard work of everybody in the organization, we could move the franchise into a more successful situation, and that’s exactly what happened in Washington.”

That philosophy followed Poile to Nashville in 1997. During the 15-plus seasons that the Predators have been skating in Middle Tennessee, the club has seen impressive growth in on-and-off ice operations, undoubtedly a mark of Poile’s influence.

“The better job that the business side does really helps me on the hockey side, in terms of having a bigger payroll, attracting players to come to Nashville or having the players want to play in Nashville,” Poile said. “I understand that the better the team plays, it’s easier to sell tickets, to get sponsorships, all of those things. We move together, and it takes everybody to make an organization successful.

“Each of the 1,171 wins is a collective effort, from coaches, scouts, players and also the business side, public relations side, everybody in the organization.”

Players like Preds forward Eric Nystrom shared their appreciation and admiration for Poile after the victory. After all, it’s Poile that has given them an opportunity to play the game they love.

“From top to bottom, the type of foundation that he’s built around here and the way the organization has been built from the ground up, he’s a huge part of that,” Nystrom said of his GM. “That just speaks volumes of what he’s done and what kind of person he is. There’s pride to put on this jersey, and you know what type of team you’re going to be. He’s been pretty much the main reason for building that identity as a team.”

“He’s a very good person,” forward Colin Wilson said. “Hockey is such a business, but he really does care for each person. You feel that when you talk to him, and you can just get that vibe from him, that he cares about each individual.”

Poile also cares immensely for the franchise and the city of Nashville. The successful start to the 2014-15 season, combined with the efforts to bring events like the 2016 NHL All-Star Game to town make for an environment that breeds positivity. Poile believes that the future for the team and the sport in Nashville has never been better.

“I really am shooting for the stars here,” Poile said. “I think that this franchise is going to be in a position in the near future where we’re going to be sold out [every night]. When that happens, then I would think that we’ve accomplished what we came here to Nashville to do, and that was to make this into a hockey city and a good, solid franchise.”

While his current win total would suggest otherwise, Poile considers himself to just be a lucky guy. Luck or not, the man at the helm in Nashville since the beginning has been humbled by the congratulatory messages received from throughout the hockey world and beyond.

“I never considered myself to be any better or smarter than anybody else,” Poile said. “I’ve tried to be very respectful and communicate with all of my people to the best of my ability. I just thought that if I could outwork everybody, or work as hard as everybody and just stay focused on my goals, I could have some degree of success, and I hope that’s happened.”

So when Rinne stopped Bergeron and the score went final on Tuesday, a new number appeared in the win column. And while it’s simply an extra digit in the record books, only two men have ever achieved the mark in League history.

Poile recognized the feat in one simple summation.

“It’s just a number, but it’s a big one.”

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