NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Predators coach Barry Trotz never wants to leave. Neither does general manager David Poile, who says he has a “comfortable” working relationship with his coach.
Their relationship certainly is productive.
The only men to hold these jobs with Nashville have survived the growing pains of building a franchise and have put the Predators in their strongest position yet to chase down their first Stanley Cup. The Predators are one of only five teams in the post-season seven of the last eight seasons, and just Nashville, Detroit and San Jose have won at least 40 games in seven straight seasons.
“The message is the same,” Trotz said. “The message for us has always been about being a good team, having a good work ethic and good sort of character-based team, and that message hasn’t changed. And the message has grown from … trying to be competitive to being competitive to pure winning. That’s just the process that we’ve gone through.”
Poile was announced Tuesday as a finalist for the NHL’s general manager of the year for a third straight season, and Trotz is a two-time finalist for the Jack Adams award. Both men helped the Predators become the fastest expansion team since 1990 to win 500 games when they beat Detroit on March 30, reaching that mark in 1,062 games.
The Predators are in the second round for a second straight year after ousting Detroit in five games as the first team to advance this post-season. They will play Phoenix in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.
Poile is the only general manager with at least 1,000 games with two different teams. He won 594 games with Washington before taking on the task of building an expansion franchise from the ground up, and one of his first moves was hiring Trotz. He also has built this franchise through the draft, and 16 players in this playoff run came through the draft with finds such as goalie Pekka Rinne in the eighth round in 2004 and rookie Gabriel Bourque, who had four points against Detroit, a fifth-rounder.
Washington coach Dale Hunter played with the Capitals when Poile was general manager there.
“As far as David Poile, he’s a character guy and he’s one of these guys that knows hockey, loves hockey and is committed to it,” Hunter said. “I think both of them are committed to hockey, so that makes a good partnership.”
Trotz first was noticed by Washington executive Jack Button when Trotz failed to impress at a Capitals’ camp and went to work with Washington’s top developmental team in the American Hockey League. In 1994-95, he won the Calder Cup with Portland. Poile hired Trotz as Nashville’s head coach in August 1997 and he has been in town ever since.
Center Mike Fisher came to Nashville in a trade from Ottawa in February 2011 and knew Trotz a little from when the coach was an assistant with Canada in the 2009 World Championships.
“In Ottawa, I played for, I don’t know, five or six coaches in 10 years, and he’s been here … still going and doing a great job,” Fisher said. “You don’t see that at all really.”
Defenceman Kevin Klein calls Trotz a player’s coach who keeps it light but gets attention when he gets mad because the coach gets upset so rarely.
“He’s got a great balance of keeping it light and being the authority out there,” Klein said.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock called Trotz for advice on how to last so long with a franchise before he signed his last contract with the Red Wings. The two coaches have known each other for years.
“The thing for me is the person he is and the way he treats people,” Babcock said. “That’s what I respect. The coaching part’s second.”
Trotz recently passed Toe Blake for third all-time with 503 wins with a single team. He ranks 15th all-time in coaching wins and trails only Al Arbour (Islanders) and Lindy Ruff (Buffalo) for most games coached with a single team (1,066). This season he balanced one of the NHL’s youngest teams before Poile’s trade deadline moves brought in forwards Paul Gaustad and Andre Kostitsyn with defenceman Hal Gill.
Poile credits Trotz with being able to see the big picture at all times.
“A coach gets into the mindset, ‘Tonight is the most important game in life.’ The manager has to have a little bit more of a vision,” Poile said. “I think Barry’s got it for tonight, but he doesn’t lose sight of the future.”
For his part, Trotz credits a patient general manager for his staying power in Nashville.
“I’ve never wanted to go anywhere,” Trotz said. “As I said to David, I’ll be here as long as he wants me here.”
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.Twitter.com/teresamwalker