It may not be evident to the naked eye what Nashville’s hosting of the 2016 NHL All-Star Game has to do with the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but as Predators General Manager David Poile believes, that weekend at the end of January may have helped to play a role in getting the Preds to their current spot. A feat that may not have come without the unlikely coupling.
The Predators continue to prepare for their first-round matchup with the Anaheim Ducks in the 2016 postseason, a series that will get underway on Friday in California, and while Poile knows what the All-Star Game meant for the city, the GM says it also touched the hockey club.
“I think maybe psychologically, that weekend was a big boost to our whole team and our whole organization,” Poile said from his office at Bridgestone Arena. “It got us playing in the right direction and added more belief in our franchise, our city and our hockey team.”
The Predators swept a road swing through Western Canada right before the All-Star break, a turning point of the season in Poile’s mind. It wasn’t long after that when the Preds strung together a franchise record 14-game point streak to help elevate them to their 41-win, 96-point total, and a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Poile also had another hand in the Preds turnaround when he acquired center Ryan Johansen on Jan. 6 in exchange for defenseman Seth Jones. Prior to Johansen’s arrival, Nashville ranked 18th in the League in goals-per-game at 2.55. Since Johansen entered the lineup on Jan. 8, that number rose to 2.90 goals-per-game, good for 11th in the League, and a few more wins.
“In my own analysis, it was a deal that we had to make,” Poile said. “Whether we made it then or later in the season, at the trade deadline or this offseason, our need for a No. 1 center wasn’t going to go away… When it became available, as much as I didn’t want to trade Seth Jones, I just felt that it was absolutely the right thing to do.”
When the puck drops for Game One on Friday night, it’ll be Nashville’s ninth appearance in the postseason in franchise history, with Poile overseeing each visit. While the Preds have earned playoff berths in nine of the last 11 seasons, the NHL’s longest tenured general manager knows just how difficult it is to make repeat appearances in the springtime, a fact he keeps in mind no matter the situation.
“The longer you’re in the business as a manager or player, you appreciate how hard it was to get to this point,” Poile said. “It’s not a given, it’s not a guarantee that you’re going to be here every year. With the parity that we have in the League, anything can happen. We could be the team that could be successful. This year we have lots of reasons why we could win, and I know it’s going to be hard.”
Nashville’s finish to the regular season certainly won’t hurt their cause. The Preds completed the 82-game schedule as one of the NHL’s hottest teams, amassing 15 wins and 34 points in their final 25 games. That confidence is something that could help the club as the “second season” begins.
“We were one of the better teams down the stretch, so all in all, it turns out to be a really good year,” Poile said. “We end the year on a high, and I think we end the year with strong belief that we can beat anybody in the League. I think we’re every bit as prepared for the playoffs this year as we were last year, with a huge asterisk in our favor that we have a year more of experience and just a little bit better balance in our lineup than we had last year.”
The excitement level in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is unparalleled, complete with astronomical highs and debilitating lows. But anything can happen. That’s not lost on Poile, or anyone else in the organization, and there’s only one way to find out.
“To beat Anaheim, we’re going to have to be at the top of our game, and we are,” Poile said. “Can we win? Absolutely. Could we lose? Unfortunately yes, but I’m excited about our chances.”