David Poile is an easy guy to like. He’s gracious when approached for interviews and honest when he answers the questions. The only GM Nashville has ever known and former Capitals GM has 30 years of experience in his role. What I didn’t know about Poile is he’s got some Charles Bronson in him.
In matching the 14-year, $110-million offer sheet signed by captain Shea Weber, Poile wrested his top remaining defenseman away from the big-market Philadelphia Flyers and (with the help of his ownership group’s pocketbook) said not on my watch.
With Ryan Suter already gone to Minnesota for big bucks, it was obvious the vultures were circling Nashville and the GM stood his ground. He’s David Poile, Vampire Hunter.
What looked like a summer of reckoning is all of a sudden not so bad. In Weber and netminder Pekka Rinne, the Preds still have two all-world players, plus an emerging offensively gifted blueliner in Ryan Ellis who can pick up some of the Suter slack.
Much has been made of the fact Poile has operated over the years under tough circumstances – if you weren’t aware, the Preds didn’t always have a lot of money to swing around – but the consistently solid rosters he has produced also work against him in a backhanded way: The Predators haven’t had a top-5 draft pick since 1998, when they took David Legwand second overall behind Vincent Lecavalier. The only other teams in that boat are Buffalo, Dallas, Detroit, Calgary and San Jose.
But Poile has always been a good draft GM. In his entire career with the Preds, he has only whiffed on one of his first selections and that came in his second year when he took goaltender Brian Finley sixth overall. And while Finley played just two games over four seasons for Nashville, every other player became an NHLer or was traded for someone better at the time (Ryan Parent was part of the deal that landed Peter Forsberg; Blake Geoffrion netted Hal Gill). That streak runs all the way up until 2009 thanks to Ellis and Jonathon Blum, both of whom will vie for full-time blueline slots in 2012-13.
Late-round steals such as Rinne (258th overall in 2004), Martin Erat (191st in 1999) and Patric Hornqvist (230th in ’05) bolster the body of work even further.
But Poile couldn’t always keep his great selections and while Weber’s offer sheet would have landed the Preds four first round draft picks, those selections all would have come in the last third of the round thanks to Philly being one of the Eastern Conference’s premier teams. In general, the talent level and success rate of players in the last third of the first round drop precipitously compared to the first two-thirds – in fact, there’s little difference between drafting 25th overall and 39th and as the perfect example, Weber went 49th in a year where Shawn Belle, Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Jeff Tambellini were late first-rounders.
So Poile had to drop the hammer on Weber and Philly. As the Preds noted in their official statement on the matter, “Would a decision not to match the offer sheet send a negative message to current Predators players and other NHL organizations, a message the Predators would only go so far to protect their best players and be pushed around by teams with ‘deep pockets?’ ”
They concluded the answer was “yes” and they’re right.
A lot of pundits are saying the Preds had to match the Weber offer sheet and that this was the only inevitable conclusion. And while I agree with the sentiment, I honestly didn’t think it would go down that way. At best, I figured Nashville would swing a trade with Philly that would net more immediate and tangible help in return. But that was before I realized Poile is gangsta like that. You don’t push around the Preds on his watch anymore.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN’s associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.