It has been no secret I think David Poile is doing a phenomenal job this summer, specifically in getting UFA goalie Dan Ellis (two years, $1.75 million per) and RFA defensemen Shea Weber (three years, $4.5 million) and Ryan Suter (four years, $3.5 million) under contract before hitting the open market on July 1.
The Predators GM took the time Thursday to discuss Nashville’s off-season dealings and other matters pertaining to his club.
The Hockey News: Your name has come up in the office several times over the past couple weeks regarding the great job you did to get Ellis, Suter and Weber under contract before they became free agents on July 1. Was getting a deal done with these guys before other teams had a chance to sign them in the forefront of your mind during negotiations?
David Poile: In Ellis’s case, being a UFA, we felt if he got to July 1 it’d be a lot harder to sign him.
Certainly it was the game plan to get all our players signed before July 1. We were successful with Weber, Suter and Ellis, but we still have Kevin Klein and (Ville) Koistinen.
Our goal was to retain our team, and I say that in the context of last season where we weren’t able to retain our players because the team had been put up for sale and we weren’t able to compete for free agents, losing Timonen, Hartnell, Kariya and others.
It was very important this off-season – from a competitive standpoint and for our fan support – to stabilize the franchise and to get our players signed.
The second part of it is, because of the depth and the cost of the players we had to sign, we weren’t going to be participating in free agency on July 1, so it made sense to get all the deals done by July 1.
THN: I remember back when J-P Dumont signed his deal in ‘06, he was quoted as saying he talked to players who had played in the organization and heard nothing but good things. What do you guys do differently than other clubs to make players feel that way and do you think that was part of the reason you were able to keep Suter, Weber and Ellis in the fold?
DP: We have a good atmosphere; as our coaches like to say, we have a good culture.
The city is just a great place to live. I’ve been here 10 years now and I have not had one player’s family who said they did not like living in Nashville. Even players who have left us speak very fondly of the city. It seems to work well for the young guys and it’s great for the players who are married and have kids who are going to school.
I know we have to grow our franchise, but our fan base is very strong and very loyal. The treatment of our players by fans is very nice in Nashville.
In terms of hockey operations, we treat people how we’d like to be treated and that works for us and it works for the players.
THN: You mentioned off the top that you didn’t plan to be active in the unrestricted free agent market, did you make any inquires on July 1?
DP: The answer is yes, but with Ellis and Pekka Rinne, there’s our goaltending. Last season we had eight defensemen, I traded (Marek) Zidlicky to get down to seven and give our young guys a chance to play. And with our forwards, we want to give a couple of our younger guys a chance, like Patric Hornqvist and Antti Pihlstrom who played in the world championship.
I think we’ve got a good core, and don’t get me wrong, there’s always a time and place to participate in free agency, but I believe very strongly in our scouting; they’ve done a great job.
I tell our young players, the path to Nashville runs through Milwaukee (American League affiliate) and we think we’ve got some guys we should give a chance to rather than go outside the organization.
THN: Is Steve Sullivan in your plans next season? Has there been any progress with his back?
DP: He’s been working out and I’m going to meet with him next week. He still believes he can come back and play…He’s able to do some exercises, but not enough to say he’s ready to come back and play. So it’s still a question mark.
THN: With the upper limit coming out of the lockout now the salary cap floor next season, do you feel like the parity – the leveling of the financial playing field, so to speak – has disappeared and you once again have the haves and have-nots?
DP: Unfortunately I think it’s starting to separate a bit. As much as you say you want to have a system that’s equal, there’s probably no such thing.
If you have $56 million to spend versus just more than $40 million, that should make a difference in the competitiveness of your team. But that’s the system. And there are lots of different ways of building a competitive team.
If we are a team who’s going to be in the middle or the lower end (in terms of payroll) we’re going to have to draft well and we’re going to have to rely on our younger players; where other teams will have the luxury of more options available to them, like finding high-end free agents.
THN: Have you heard anything from your ownership group about the floor being so high? I mean, the season prior to the lockout, you guys spent $23 million, now you’re forced to spend $40 million and change. I don’t profess to understand it, but I can’t imagine revenue sharing is making up that difference.
DP: The system is working. We do have a salary cap in place. Having said that, for a lot of markets – and we’re one of them – it’s always going to be a challenge.
We have to continue to grow our season ticket base and we have to continue to grow corporate support. I don’t think it’s ever going to be a huge moneymaker in Nashville – we don’t have the big TV market – but we have to continue to strive through the collective bargaining agreement with the players to adjust the system so that all 30 teams can operate successfully.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.