When the Nashville Predators defeated the St. Louis Blues on March 21, it marked the 1,000th career win as an NHL general manager for David Poile, who got started with the Washington Capitals back in the early 1980s.
It was during that time when Poile first became acquainted with a man by the name of Barry Trotz, who would later become the first -- and to this date, the only -- coach in the franchise history of the Predators.
"It's been a long-term relationship and it goes back to my first training camp as General Manager of the Washington Capitals," said Poile, the featured guest on Thursday's NHL Hour With Gary Bettman.
"Barry was invited to training camp as a player. He played for the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League, and Jack Button, who was our director of player personnel, saw something special in Barry -- not as a player, because Barry was rather small in stature … but he took him under his wing and although Barry didn't make our team, Jack offered him a job scouting for us in western Canada."
By the time Poile got to Nashville and needed to hire a coach, he knew Trotz not only as a player but as a scout and Calder Cup-winning coach in the AHL. While the peers he spoke to who had run expansion teams in the past advised him to hire the candidate with the most experience -- "because you're not going to be very good and an experienced coach will cover up a lot of your mistakes and make the journey a lot faster to success" -- Poile decided to go with his own instincts instead.
"I just said to myself, ‘Somebody gave me a chance once and I'm going to give somebody else a chance,' and that's what I did with Barry, as I did with my office staff and my scouts," Poile said. "Just like our players that we gave a chance to, they got better and better. And Barry was a good coach when I hired him and he's a much better coach today."
With a little over a week remaining in the regular season, it appears Trotz is on his way to guiding the Predators to their fifth playoff berth in six seasons. They entered action Thursday in fifth place in the Western Conference and Bettman asked Poile to mention a few of the players who have carried the team this season.
"Right now our goaltending, which was pretty equal for the most part this year, has been separated a little bit, really, by Pekka Rinne
finding his way, if you will, after the Olympic break, and he's played most of the games since then," Poile said.
"I think this is one of the best stories we have in our franchise, in that he's a late-round draft choice (taken in the eighth round, No. 258, in 2004) from Finland, we brought him over on an entry-level contract and played him three full seasons in (AHL) Milwaukee. I think in a lot of ways we like to sometimes rush our prospects, our younger players, that this has really served him well.
"They got him used to playing in North America, on the ice, off the ice. He became a better goaltender, obviously, and I think it's allowed him to be successful. He's not just 20 years old -- he's 26 years old right now -- but he's really made a difference right now and he's playing with confidence and I really like that way you develop a player."
Poile also brought up Nashville's top defense pairing of Shea Weber
and Ryan Suter
, who drew national attention during the Olympics while playing on opposite sides of the Canada-United States rivalry. Poile called the Vancouver Games "a coming-out party for them," and ranked them as one of the top pairings in the League.
It's also impossible to talk about the Predators and overlook the play of second-year forward Patric Hornqvist
, who leads the team with 30 goals and, like Rinne, is a late draft pick. Hornqvist was the final player selected in the 2005 Entry Draft, with the 230th pick.
"That's certainly good scouting," Poile said, noting "it's good to be good and it's better to be lucky and I think we're a little bit of both."
"I'm really proud of our scouting staff," he added. "Everybody knows that we wouldn't be where we are without having good scouting and the Predators, almost from day one, have done a really good job in that area. We've been able to put new and young players in our lineup and Hornqvist is a guy that, again, the last pick in the draft -- how good is that, that he can come in and play, and not only play, he's on our top-two lines, he's scored 30 goals, I mean those are types of drafts that you dream about, so congrats to our scouting staff."
Poile's late father Bud was a player, coach, GM and executive during his long career in hockey, and the two are one of six father-son combinations to each win the Lester Patrick Trophy. This is Poile's 27th year as a GM, placing him second only to the Rangers' Glen Sather (29 years) in terms of tenure.
Asked by Bettman to give some advice to listeners who might aspire to get into the management side of hockey, Poile -- a star at Northeastern who saw his playing days end soon after that -- said there are more opportunities these days for those who might not have a playing background.
"It used to be that you had to be a player before you became a coach or a manager, and for that part you probably had to be a top player. I think we're seeing that, in management especially, guys are becoming managers from all different walks of life, and you don't have to have a strong hockey playing background.
"Education is really important -- as well all know, there's a huge business side to the game, and I certainly consider myself a businessman. I want to consider myself a hockey guy and a businessman, and I think you have to somehow get a little bit of both, because anybody who's going to want to hire you hopes you have the passion for hockey, and if you played it at a high level, at least at some level, so that you have an understanding of the game, that's very important. But you have to have also the business acumen to be able to operate as a general manager these days, I think that's very important."