There isn't much David Poile hasn't experienced over his 39 consecutive seasons as a general manager in the National Hockey League.
The only GM the Predators have seen in franchise history is well aware that for every plan made prior to Opening Night, most of those preparations will change in some way in the months ahead, sometimes by the day, the hour, from one shift to the next.
Poile knew the 2020-21 campaign - one that was to be played amidst circumstances never seen before - would be unique, to say the least. And he surely didn't foresee the slow start from his club, nor could he have predicted the unexpected turnaround that gave the Predators their seventh consecutive postseason berth to conclude a five-month stretch that won't be soon forgotten.
As Poile and Predators Head Coach John Hynes took questions Thursday afternoon inside Bridgestone Arena, just one week removed from Nashville's playoff exit and a six-game series loss to Carolina, the two men tasked with retooling and reshaping this team at the start of the season had plenty to say following the conclusion - an optimistic outlook with the reality that the ultimate goal was not achieved.
"Sitting here today, I'm definitely disappointed that the season is over, but I do believe that our changes helped bring us the identity that we wanted," Poile said of the season. "We competed harder, we had an urgency in our game, we became a tough team to play against and we played the way it was necessary to win. I think we can be proud of our effort, the effort that we put forth, but I'm not happy or satisfied with the end results. I think we've demonstrated we can compete with a top team in the League like Carolina, but the challenge is getting to the next level and being able to beat a team like Carolina. Today, there are eight teams remaining competing for the Stanley Cup, and we want to be one of those teams next year. We've still got a lot of work to do to get where we want to be, but I believe we took some steps in the right direction."
"Things [at the start of the season], they weren't clicking as well as we wanted them to," Hynes said. "So, we talked with [Assistant Captain Mattias Ekholm], we talked with [Captain Roman Josi], we talked with other guys in the team about how can we do things better, but also how can they do things better too as players? I think the reason why you can change that is because people are dug in together, and when we hit adversity, the players dug in, the general manager dug in, the coaches dug in, and we all made changes and understood what needed to happen and committed to doing it."
Video: Poile recaps 2020-21 season, looks at the future
The Predators need that commitment to continue, and the offseason work, Poile says, has already begun with player exit meetings and determining what the roster will look like when training camp hopefully begins in September. Poile told reporters Thursday that while he wasn't ready to comment on any changes in particular, there will be additions and subtractions to that roster next season, as is the case every year.
Not only will the Predators have free agency to contend with in late July, but the 2021 Expansion Draft will come before then as the Seattle Kraken select one player from the roster of each of the 31 other NHL clubs. Poile and the Preds have held mock drafts, and they'll continue to do so in the weeks ahead as the event inches closer.
When it comes to free agency, goaltender Pekka Rinne will have plenty of eyes on his situation as the 38-year-old face of the franchise looks to make a decision on what's next for him and his family. Rinne reiterated on Wednesday he has not yet decided what he'll be doing this autumn, and Poile stated Thursday Rinne remains in Nashville's plans.
"I met with him Tuesday, and I was very pleased that he has not come to any decision," Poile said of Rinne. "I would say in the next two or three weeks that Pekka and I will get together again, and we'll see what he's thinking about. But as I've told him, we would be very, very happy if [he wants] to come back for one more season. I think I speak for everybody in the organization on that, fans, coaches and players; Pekka's just been a phenomenal human being for us and in our organization, what he's done for the community, without even bringing up all that he's done for us on the ice."
On the injury front, for everything the team dealt with during the regular season, Poile says the Preds are relatively healthy following the postseason.
Defenseman Mark Borowiecki, who detailed his mental and physical health issues recently, has been cleared from his concussion and is preparing for next season. Josi, who was injured on a hit suffered in Game 6 against Carolina, is getting better, Poile says, and should be back to "100 percent in the next couple of weeks."
Poile also added forward Viktor Arvidsson, who missed time in the playoffs due to an upper-body injury, is expected to be fully recovered fairly soon and should be ready for the start of next season. Defenseman Luca Sbisa, an unrestricted free agent, is still recovering from a concussion, and the Preds continue to assist in that process.
As the Predators look ahead, there will be plenty to take from the season that will now be added to the record books, particularly the team's return to what Poile and others in the organization like to call the "Predator Way," a mantra that describes what it means to play in Nashville.
Prior to the start of the season, Poile and Hynes stressed the need to get back to being a tougher, grittier, in-your-face type of team, and while it may have taken them longer than expected to attain that status, the Preds believe they're back to that identity.
"It's fair to say that we can expect some changes in our lineup, but one thing I can say is that the work done by John Hynes and his staff, we do now have a clear identity," Poile said. "I think that's probably the most important thing that we accomplished this year."
Video: GM Poile, Coach Hynes discuss lessons from season
Another triumph to celebrate? While it was out of the control of Poile and Hynes, the return of more than 14,000 fans to Bridgestone Arena for the final contest of the season - Game 6 against Carolina in Round One - is a feat that didn't seem possible when the puck dropped in January with just a couple hundred family and friends in attendance.
For a team that has always had a special relationship with its supporters, Poile made sure to acknowledge that achievement, too.
"The special bond that we have between our team and the community, as the season went on, we realized that, more than ever, that while we were still in our bubble, we were connected with our community," Poile said. "We wanted to be a source of pride for Nashville, and the incredible fan support that we have here continues to be a driver for what makes Nashville so special. I hope those of you that did have the chance to come to a playoff game will always remember that feeling and how much that we missed that [support]. That was very special."
The Predators will take the good with the bad as they enter the offseason and the process of improving the team begins, and ultimately, those in charge know they'll need more throughout the lineup to compete with the League's best.
"I feel that the roster is working in the right direction, but having said that, we have to be better," Poile said. "As I say, I'm proud of our play, and I'm encouraged, but again, I think we can be better. I don't think, other than some of the younger players [who were in their] first year, that anybody had what you could call a career year, and I expect, with the growth of our team and the way we played and the way John has been coaching, the team that some of our players will move toward a better year and more of a career year. Whether that's based on how much they play in ice time, or it could be in production. So, do I think we're as good as the top teams in the League? No, and that's reflected by where we finished in the standings and the fact that Carolina beat us in the playoffs. I think we've got a long way to go, but I'm encouraged by what we've accomplished this year.
"A lot of players feel like we're going in the right direction, and I don't get the sense that everybody's just over-the-top happy or excited. They know that we've got a long way to go. We're not as good as the top teams, and that's what we've got to keep trying to find ways to make proper changes, either within the organization or outside the organization, and we've got to ask more of our players to play at a higher level."
Those asks will primarily come from Hynes and his staff, and while advancements need to be made, the bench boss has seen plenty to build upon too. What the Preds went through together has provided quite a foundation from which to evolve in the future, and it's an outlook that isn't all that dull after all.
"When we all talk about encouraging things, maybe if you don't go through that type of adversity and have to get through some of those tough times and tough moments, maybe the end of the season doesn't turn out the way it does because you don't have that toughness or the resiliency or situations you've gone through to make the push that we made and become the team that we were," Hynes said. "That was all part of our journey this year, in our process this year, and I think that is something that should be recognized. That is something to build off of, for sure."