There have been many additions to the Nashville Predators over the last few months, both on the ice (Matthew Lombardi & Shane O'Brien, for example) and in the front office (with new CEO Jeff Cogen and COO Sean Henry). One move that flew under the radar, however, was the hiring of a new Director of Hockey Operations to replace Mike Santos, who left to become assistant general manager of the Florida Panthers.
In July, the Preds hired Brian Poile, son of current general manager David, to take over a role primarily geared towards "preparation and research for negotiating player contracts, salary arbitration and overseeing minor league affiliation agreements." In other words, a lot of the nitty-gritty behind the scenes work to hammer out player contracts, along with managing the relationship between the Preds and the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals, and the ECHL's Cincinnati Cyclones.
Lest you raise an eyebrow over the thought of a GM hiring his son for such a key position, you should know that Brian served as Director of Hockey Operations for the AHL's Utah Grizzlies (then affiliated with the Dallas Stars) before the Great Lockout, and also brings a professional background that ties in pretty well with negotiating contracts such as the ones he'll work with for the Preds.
Follow after the jump for my Q&A with Brian as we talked about his role with the Preds, his background in hockey (and elsewhere), and the challenges he'll face...
OtF: Obviously you come from a long line of hockey managers with your father and grandfather, but you've been
out of the game for the last few years, right? What made you come back now?
BP: Hockey has always been my passion, I love the game, in every aspect - as a player, as a fan and now back in management. I still play once a week, and although I stepped away from hockey in my profession, I've always been one of the Predators' biggest fans. I've attended almost every home game since I moved back to Nashville, and I've had many fireside chats with my Dad about the league and Predators, even when I wasn't working for the team.
I was with the Dallas Stars organization for four years before this, and during the lockout season they made the decision to not to have a minor league team. So when Dallas's affiliation ended with the Utah Grizzlies, myself and the coaches Don Hay and Bob Bassen were let go, with the presumption that the lockout would be a week, or maybe a month, but it ended up being a year. So I moved to Nashville and started to fall in love with the city, and people and saw an opportunity in real estate.
I was always interested in getting back into hockey, as long as it was the right fit and the right opportunity.
The Predators are a fantastic organization, I have several friends on the staff, getting to work with the coaches Barry, Brent and Peter who I respect so much, and a great hockey mind, scout, and evaluator in Paul Fenton and having the opportunity to work with my Dad who is a wonderful mentor, leader and person to learn from, I feel very blessed for this opportunity to work for my favorite team in the NHL.
OtF: Previously you were the Director of Hockey Operations for the AHL's Utah Grizzlies, can you tell me about that experience?
BP: It was a similar title, but the lower down you go, the more hats you wear, the farther up you go, the less hats you wear. So I would say that the position was more inclusive, while this one is more specialized. In the AHL you don't have as many people on staff, so everyone does a little bit of everything. Hockey Operations down there meant everything - from management, scouting, team services, to league administration.
OtF: It's interesting that you mentioned the effect of the lockout. Generally, people think of it in terms of the NHL season which was lost, but there was also a big impact in the minor leagues as well.
BP: The lockout had impact on everybody from fans, players, staff, NHL on down to the minors. With the Dallas Stars, it just so happened that their affiliation agreement coincided with the year the lockout so they consolidated staff and loaned their prospects to other teams.
OtF: Your work in real estate seems interesting, because with hockey contracts we're always talking about "comparables". Can you speak to how that professional background prepared you for this role?
BP: That was a big part of my first assignment here, the Patric Hornqvist contract. I helped do the research and preparation for that. Similar to a mixed used development site or parcel of land both the buyers and sellers or in hockey terms the team and the agents are presenting their player comparables, both sides trying to come to a fair and reasonable agreement.
OtF: In real estate some of the typical factors to determine a comp might be location, square footage, amenities, etc., but when it comes to players, what are some of the main factors you look at?
BP: Player comparable can be hard to narrow down, after position, style of players, and stats, points, time on time on ice, other factors come into play such as age, years of pro experience, past contracts, arbitration rights etc. For example with Patric Hornqvist, his first year pro he was he was learning his way in the NHL, and his offensive numbers reflected that. Then last season, he had a great season and scored 30 goals. So his two seasons stats are very different and you're trying to sign a contract for X number of years at X dollars, and the debate is where you do compare Patric based off of his first season, second season, or somewhere in the middle? His contract was a difficult one to prepare for, but in the end we are very excited to have him signed and we look forward to him being a real productive player for the Predators for the next several seasons.
OtF: On the Preds website it lists your primary responsibility as including "preparation and research for negotiating player contracts, salary arbitration and overseeing minor league affiliation agreements." So it sounds like you'll be hip-deep in the details of the CBA on a regular basis?
BP: A strong understanding of CBA is crucial and it's covers everything, from contracts, compensation, bonuses, free agency, salary arbitration, waivers, loans, assignments, and arbitration. The CBA dictates the process for all of those things and its our job on the team side to operate under its guidelines.
OtF: People often talk about the challenges of competing with big-budget teams, but what opportunities do you see out there for the Nashville Predators under the current CBA?
BP: If you've noticed over the last two years in particular, the new CBA has helped to make the NHL a much more level playing felid for all teams. And in my opinion the competition has never been better. On any given night, any team can win. You look at last year's playoffs, the Flyers qualified on the final day of the season, and they went all the way to the Finals. The Predators were battling it out in the playoffs with the eventually Stanley Cup champs, there is a lot of parity in the league right now and that makes it exciting for fans in both small and big market teams knowing there home team has a solid chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.
OtF: In theory, the Preds could make a good trade partner for a Cap Max team by picking up guys on the tail end of big contracts, since they'd have a salary that is significantly below their cap hit. It's obviously early in your tenure here, but do you see those opportunities being discussed?
BP: Certainly being financially responsible with your payroll gives you opportunities, that other teams that are approaching the ceiling of the salary cap might not have. For example, you might have opportunity to pick up an NHL-quality player on waivers or make a trade for a player on a team that is looking to reduce payroll.
OtF: Besides being financially responsible in dollar terms, is there also concern about the length of a contract, and the fact that the current CBA expires in 2012?
BP: Absolutely in addition to dollar amounts, length of term is also very important to consider when you are planning out your long term team roster and budget. Long-term contracts are something to be careful about as one long-term contract mistake can affect your team for years down the road.
OtF: One guy who might fit the model for a long-term deal is Shea Weber... do you have any update there on a contract extension?
BP: No update right now but we have expressed to Shea and his agents know that we would love to have Shea as a Nashville Predator for a long time. We've shown him that commitment by making him our captain, he's the cornerstone of our franchise. He's leading us this year, and hopefully many years to come.
OtF: Besides getting Weber extended, what would you say are the major tasks coming up this season on your front?
BP: Right now our major task is taking care of the players we have solidifying roster positions and bringing our group together as one team. Our focus, thoughts, time and energy is devoted to preparing for Opening Night, and putting the best team together to have the best Predators team we have had in our 13-year history. Then over the course of the year some of the tasks we will work on will be managing the payroll, potentially signing some of our prospects, working with our affiliations in Milwaukee and Cincinnati, and helping our hockey department anyway I can.
Thanks to Brian and the Nashville Predators for the opportunity - Dirk
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