When it comes to the Nashville Predators, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Not everything about the franchise is identical to when it started play 12 years ago. The home building has worn several monikers, most recently going from the Sommet Center to Bridgestone Arena. The team captaincy also has switched hands a number of times, with Shea Weber
taking over this season for the departed Jason Arnott.
You look at businesses outside of sports, and successful companies, I'm not saying they don't make changes, but having people you work with and can be on the same page with philosophically, that's big in order to be functionally successful. - Predators GM David Poile, on the long-term partnership between him and head coach Barry Trotz
But the Predators have been a model of stability in many ways. David Poile has remained firmly entrenched in his position as general manager, with Barry Trotz running the on-ice product from behind the bench since Day 1. And in five of the past six seasons, Nashville has found itself participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- not a bad run of success in an always competitive Western Conference.
"Personally I think it's good," Poile told NHL.com with a laugh when asked if the long-term employment of himself and Trotz lent itself to that feeling of continuity within the organization and subsequent results in the team's play. "You look at businesses outside of sports, and successful companies, I'm not saying they don't make changes, but having people you work with and can be on the same page with philosophically, that's big in order to be functionally successful."
Poile, who started his NHL career as an executive with the Atlanta Flames and spent 15 years as GM of the Washington Capitals, took over the same role with the expansion Predators and made perhaps his most important decision in selecting Trotz as his coach. More than a decade later, he is still the only bench boss Nashville has known.
"When I hired Barry Trotz, he had never been an NHL coach before. He was the least experienced coach in the League," Poile said. "Now he and (Buffalo's) Lindy Ruff are the most experienced. I'm happy we've been able to work together this long and I hope there's a lot still to come."
That seems likely given the way Nashville has been building since first qualifying for the playoffs in the 2003-04 season. The Predators have won a minimum of 40 games in every season since -- including a franchise-best 51 in 2006-07 -- and enjoyed a run of three straight second-place finishes in the Central Division from 2006-08.
This all has taken place during the era of the salary cap and in a market that might not attract free-agent talent as easily as places like New York, Detroit or Philadelphia. So how does Poile manage to keep Nashville competitive year after year in a conference that always is loaded at the top with the likes of the Red Wings, Sharks and now Blackhawks?
"The challenge isn't necessarily the other teams, it's how good we can be," Poile said. "Our drafting over the years has been excellent and our scouting. We have a lot of new, younger players ready to break into our lineup. When we lose a veteran like a Jason Arnott or a Dan Hamhuis, on the outside it might look insurmountable. But our younger guys are developing, they've had another year of experience, and now we hope they're ready to take over for them."
Like any good team, the Predators have a system they preach throughout the organization, a style of hockey based on sound play and a minimum of errors. In order to keep the engine running smoothly, Poile must ensure each summer that the new parts he's adding -- whether it's a rookie coming up or a veteran acquired through trade or free agency -- will fit into that system.
Nashville picked up a prospect in Matt Halischuk
and a 2011 second-round draft pick from New Jersey for Arnott in what Poile termed "a Predators type of deal." Matthew Lombardi, who spent last season in Phoenix, was signed to fill Arnott's role as a veteran center, and Nashville received enigmatic but talented forward Sergei Kostitsyn
from Montreal in exchange for the rights to free-agent goaltender Dan Ellis.
"Halischuk is just getting to the point of being an NHL player," Poile said. "He's our type of guy, tenacious and hard-working. He played on a top line in juniors with Nick Spaling
," a second-round pick by the Predators in 2007 who is expected to compete for a roster spot this season.
"Losing Arnott is big, but signing Matt Lombardi is a different way to go. He fits our mold and something we wanted to do was to get faster. So we added Lombardi and Sergei Kostitsyn
from Montreal. It's a different way to go, but we see it as a trade-up, if you will."
Drafting well, as Poile pointed out, also has been a hallmark of this team. The Predators haven't just struck gold in the early rounds, with players like Weber (No. 49 in 2003) and Colin Wilson
(No. 7 in 2008), an emerging talent they expect to blossom this season. They've also found diamonds in the rough, players like Martin Erat
(No. 191 in 1999), Pekka Rinne
(No. 258 in 2004) and Patric Hornqvist
(No. 230, the final pick of the 2005 draft).
Once the pieces have been put into place by Poile, it's up to Trotz to get the most out of them, and he's proven to be a master at that over the years.
"He's willing to make changes. It's not always the same thing over and over again," Weber told NHL.com. "He's very good at finding a way to get the team that we have, after David's made moves in the offseason or what have you, to produce. And that's the biggest thing, producing on the ice and getting in the playoffs and then hopefully taking that next step."
Unfortunately for the Predators, another area in which they've been remarkably consistent has been in their first-round playoff exits. They're still trying to reach the Western Conference Semifinals, and suffered a bitter pill this past spring when the Chicago Blackhawks stole the pivotal Game 5 in a tied series and then ousted Nashville in six en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
Poile remains undeterred, choosing to look at what some other franchises have had to endure along the road to postseason glory.
"It's often been said that some of your biggest failures come before your biggest successes," he said. "For most teams, there's a lot of growing and improving to be done -- you have to stumble a little before you can make it.
"The jury's still out on us. We'll see if that situation in Chicago -- we will be faced with it again somewhere along the way, and it will come down to how we handle it individually and as a team. We played well; we were a minute from winning and being up 3-2 against the eventual champs. We've got to overcome that."
Author: Brian Hunter | NHL.com Staff Writer