David Poile has seen just about everything in his almost 20 years as general manager of the Nashville Predators. There isn't much that surprises Head Coach Peter Laviolette anymore either.
But what they encountered in their home city over the past two months - each and every time they came to the rink - was something two of the brightest hockey minds in the game won't be forgetting anytime soon.
It had nothing to do with breakouts or forechecks or postseason heroes - they've both been privy to those before - but tens of thousands of spectators clad in Gold, coming together in support of a simple goal - that was something worth remembering.
So it doesn't make the sting of defeat any easier to take for Poile and Laviolette, knowing they were two wins away from reaching what they - and now 30 other - general managers and coaches set out to do every September. But they'll do so soon enough, and the men in charge of the Nashville Predators want nothing more than to make it just as far next spring - and then some.
"It ended two wins short of our ultimate goal, but I have never ever been part of something as special as what we just went through," Poile said during a season-ending press conference Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena. "As the general manager of the team, as a citizen of Nashville, what took place on the ice and off the ice has never been seen before. In my mind, it was the most exciting Stanley Cup Final in the history of the National Hockey League, and it happened right here in Nashville, Tennessee.
"Everybody was part of this playoff run, and it just feels so good to be not only general manager of the Nashville Predators, but to be a citizen of Nashville, Tennessee."
Video: GM David Poile gives final recap on 2016-17 season
Laviolette's players spoke on the impact of the Preds fan base throughout the postseason, including Tuesday during their final meetings with the media, and the bench boss echoed their sentiments Wednesday, a relationship that goes much deeper than the wave of a rally towel.
"I can promise you that every one of our players saw it," Laviolette said of the fan impact. "They knew it, they felt it… it was part of the fabric of our playoff run here. It would be crazy not to acknowledge the impact that our fans and our city had on this run."
So what exactly can a run like this do for the Nashville franchise? For one, Music City's popularity is running wilder than a fiddle player at Tootsie's, and that's beginning to include the hockey world. After the amount of exposure the city has received surrounding the game and the franchise itself, combined with the on-ice success of the organization, Poile believes Nashville is becoming a premier landing spot in the League.
"The last two or three years have been the best in our [franchise's history]," Poile said. "The more you win, the more attractive your team is to players to stay here or free agents [to sign here]. The fact that our building is now full on a nightly basis, there's not a player that doesn't think this is as good a place, if not the best place to play in the National Hockey League right now… I've never felt better about our franchise than I do today."
The opportunities for continued participation by the Predators and the city of Nashville in marquee League events also continue to rise, whether that be hosting an outdoor game or appearing on additional nationally televised games. While there's nothing imminent on the outdoor front, that doesn't mean the Preds won't continue to pursue it just as vigorously as they ever have before, especially after hosting a wildly successful All-Star Game in 2016, followed by the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.
Video: Poile, Laviolette field questions on 2016-17 season
"[Predators President and CEO] Sean Henry and our ownership will be lobbying the League for all of those things," Poile said. "We want to be as big a player as we can in the League and have a positive effect on the League… I don't see why we shouldn't move toward all of those things. Whatever the NHL is doing, wherever the most important things are in terms of exposure, we will do everything we can to make sure that Nashville is right there at the forefront."
While Poile and Predators management will handle their summertime agenda over the coming weeks, such as the Expansion Draft, NHL Draft and free agency among other items, Laviolette and his staff are tasked with communicating to the players once they arrive back in Nashville, with training camp set to open in exactly three months.
Laviolette, an expert in the art of motivation, knows nothing will be given, especially for a Predators team that will likely be used as a measuring stick for opponents courtesy of their recent success.
"I always work under the assumption that we should never assume anything," Laviolette said. "What we did this year and how we grew as a team, that team will have to take on its own identity next year. we'll have to forge together to become a group that can win hockey games and do those things, so there's always work that has to be done. I think it's important that we just focus on that when we get to training camp, and we should never assume anything. We should do the work instead."
Before that happens, there will likely come a time this summer when both Poile and Laviolette find themselves reflecting on what they accomplished as individuals, and as a team, over the past nine months.
It'll be well deserved, too. After all, it's not often a town rallies around a team like this. But that's what happens in Nashville, Tennessee. And the best is yet to come.
"I hope I can keep these memories forever," Poile said. "I think it's pretty fair to say that we're no longer an expansion team, we're no longer a nontraditional hockey market. We have a team that competes for the Stanley Cup and we have a franchise that is, in my mind, as good as any in the hockey world."