Even though the NHL season may be at the top of our minds right now, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia aren't too far over the horizon.
Scott Burnside at ESPN.com wrote an early look-ahead to how Team USA will approach the men's hockey tournament, and he expects that Brian Burke will once again get the honor of being named general manager:
"...when the dust clears from the current labor talks -- and USA Hockey is expected to make an announcement on the Sochi management team shortly thereafter -- look for Burke to return to his post as GM of the U.S. effort for Sochi.
He will take the job because, in a field that is awash in more than capable candidates, he is the best qualified."
Are you kidding me? Burke makes for a great quote (and he certainly loves the spotlight), but calling him the best qualified man for the job is a stretch.
If anyone is qualified and perfectly suited to be the general manager of Team USA for the 2014 Sochi Games, it has to be Nashville's David Poile.
The Right Man for the Right Plan
The strategy from Vancouver in 2010 was to build the best possible team, rather than simply work off a list of the top American NHL players. Instead of asking a Top 6-caliber forward to suddenly serve as a PK specialist, for example, go out and bring in the best penalty killer you can find, even if he is considered a role player on his NHL squad. This was widely credited with helping the Americans win a surprising silver medal, which included taking Canada to overtime before falling in the final game.
That plan made a good deal of sense for an American team that would have been outgunned by the Canadians and Russians in a talent-vs-talent matchup, and this situation looks relatively unchanged heading into 2014. Short of convincing Pavel Datsyuk to become a naturalized American citizen, I don't see how the talent gap can be closed with Canada & Russia when it comes time to put together the 2014 Olympic teams.
If this "greater than the sum of the parts" strategy is still preferred, then, there is no better man for the job than David Poile. He has been crafting teams that exceed expectations based on the talent level of individual players for a number of years now - it's a hallmark of the much-lauded "Predator Way".
Burke has yet to steer the Toronto Maple Leafs into the playoffs, despite having more resources available than any general manager in the National Hockey League. Poile, on the other hand, has been a finalist for the GM of the Year Award three seasons in a row, ever since the league started handing it out. He's led the Predators to the playoffs in 7 of the last 8 seasons, with the only bump in the road coming due to having his hand forced by Craig Leipold during the Great Fire Sale of 2007. All this, while working under tighter budget constraints than almost every one of his colleagues.
I've been critical in the past as to whether the Predator Way can ultimately deliver a Stanley Cup to Nashville, but the Olympics are a different matter entirely. There's no free agent market available to address the talent gap, so Team USA has little choice but to embrace the "hard hat & lunch pail" mentality that served them well in 2010.
It's the right plan for Sochi - but Team USA needs to pick the right man to implement it.