David Poile: Architect or Archetype?
David Poile, the hand on the tiller for the Nashville Predators since Day One, came over from the Washington Capitals with a lot of promise and an eye for growing the sport of hockey in a non-traditional market. As for GM’s over his tenure in Nashville, the Predators couldn’t ask for a much savvier
Architect - a person who designs and guides a plan or undertaking
Archetype - the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies
This season's roster is pretty much set with the re-signing of Ribeiro, Fisher, Smith, Wilson and Bourque along with the acquisition of Hodgson and Jackman. With this wealth of experienced NHL talent there are not many holes to fill for hopeful AHL'ers this season unless the injury bug lands in Nashville.
The question is: What is to become of next season with the signings of Forsberg, Jones and Ekholm looming? All three are top priorities for Nashville and two of them are due a healthy raise from their Entry Level Contracts. Maybe one of the bigger questions that should be addressed is how will Poile handle what could be a lucrative contract for Filip Forsberg if he continues his breakout offensive ways?
First, let's look at how Poile has dealt with larger contracts in the past, even going back to his days in D.C.
By far, one of the best players under the employment of David Poile, Bondra had fifteen amazing seasons with the Caps. Averaging 61 points throughout 2001-04, Bondra had a contract with an AAV of $4.58M. This was a solid signing by Poile to keep a key addition for the Capitals and then trading him to Ottawa just before his numbers began to decline for Brooks Laich and Ottawa's second round pick.
To many analysts and bloggers, this was the player that may have caused Poile to be gun shy about trades and contracts altogether. Scott Stevens was a promising prospect with the Capitals and coming into his own on the blue line. When it was time to pay Stevens, the St. Louis Blues signed him to an offer sheet that would send five first round picks back to Washington for compensation. This was revisited by Jeff Charlesworth of hockeysfuture.com in 2000 showing the haul for Stevens was Trevor Halverson, Sergei Gonchar, Brendan Witt, Nolan Baumgartner and Miika Elomo. Aside from Sergei Gonchar, none of these first round picks really panned out as much as future hall-of-famer Stevens. Did Poile not want to make Scott Stevens one of the top paid players? (Steve Yzerman and Pat LaFontaine were getting paid 1.4M, two of the top five paid players in 1991-92) It comes as no surprise that in 1994-95, Scott Stevens was the third highest paid player in the NHL. Which brings us to...
The Nashville Era:
The greatest hockey player to ever don the Gold and Blue (aside from a small stint from Peter Forsberg), Kariya broke all regular season scoring records as a Predator. Kariya still holds the single season assist and point records to this day. The Predators enjoyed elite level offensive production and was arguably the best team the organization has ever iced with Kariya on the wing. Poile inked the services of Paul Kariya for two years at an AAV of $4.5M, a reasonable salary for a player just coming out of his prime playing days with the Anaheim Ducks where he was one of the highest paid players in the league. At the end of the 2006-07 season, a season that saw the Predators have the most points, wins and goals scored in franchise history, Poile wasn't able to retain Kariya and he signed with the St. Louis Blues for $6M AAV for three years. Granted, some of the instability of the organization could have been a factor in Kariya not re-signing here, but it does bring up questions as to whether or not Poile offered anything close to what St. Louis did.
Are you beginning to see a pattern?
Signed as a free agent, Jason Arnott, the former Stanley Cup winner with the Devils was the hulking center with a scoring touch that the Predators had needed for years. Poile was able to lock up Arnott to a 4 year, $4.5M AAV contract. Arnott would go on during this contract to break the record for goals in a season with 33. But towards the end of his contract, Arnott started to slow down his production and Poile decided not to re-sign him as Arnott went back to the Devils, then to Washington and finally finished his career in St. Louis putting up a respectable 34 points in 72 games. Poile may have made a good decision in not re-signing Arnott, but until getting Ribeiro this past year, the Predators have been without a true #1 center since Arnott's departure.
The Predators were attempting to get above the salary cap floor, hence the five year, $4.875M AAV contract for David Legwand in 2008-09. David Legwand leads all Predators in overall scoring, records that have more to do with his tenure coupled with his abilities. At his best, Legwand is an amazing second line center; a great two-way player that has offensive ability but can chip in on the penalty kill. The 2008-09 season, as you will see in the next three player paragraphs, was probably the most difficult for Poile with having to field a team with budget constraints in the shadow of losing the team outright to another market. In the end, Poile was able to trade Legwand to the Detroit Red Wings for Patrick Eaves and prospect Calle Jarnkrok. A masterful move by Poile to get something for an exiting player as Jarnkrok would end up being a decent contributor on the ice and for the Predators future.
Possibly one of the most consistent players (health withstanding) for the Predators, Martin Erat averaged over 50 points per season with the Predators not counting his rookie year and his last year in Nashville. Once again, Poile inked Erat to the oft-signed $4.5M AAV contract for seven years. Even though Erat's salary was seen by many as an over payment for what he delivered (which was second line winger scoring with the ability to play on the first line when needed), the necessity to get to the salary cap floor forced Poile's hand with this contract. All turned out well as Erat requested to be traded and Poile found a dance partner in Washington sending Erat and Michael Latta to the Capitals for Filip Forsberg, the best rookie forward the Predators have ever acquired and a huge black mark against the Washington Capitals for their lack of foresight.
The contracts of David Legwand and Martin Erat were the touchstone to much of the finger pointing at Poile during these seasons for overpaying for mediocre talent.
The duo of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber had the NHL drooling over what was arguably the best defensive line in the NHL. Suter was the assist machine who played a smart, positioning game and allowed Weber to be the offensive force. In the off-season of 2008, Poile signed Suter to a reasonable contract of $3.5M AAV for four years. Suter was beginning to show the consistency that would propel him to his mammoth contract with the Minnesota Wild. Poile was flabbergasted that Suter decided to leave town after the GM seemed to believe that he would be able to sign Suter and match any contract another team would offer. Not only did the Predators lose one of the best defenseman in the NHL, it was for zero compensation. No picks, no prospects, no players...nada. Which brings us to...
If there was ever a cornerstone player of the Nashville Predators franchise, it is Captain Shea Weber. Once again, before the 2008-09 season, Poile signed Weber to his patented $4.5M AAV for three years. After this, the club elected to take Weber to arbitration resulting in a one year $7.5M payday. For a great in-depth look at the club-elected arbitration process, check out Dirk Hoag's primer from 2011. Poile followed this fiasco up with poor negotiating with Weber and his agent which resulted in the Philadelphia Flyers offer-sheeting Weber to a ludicrous contract that was designed to cripple the Predators if they matched it or send a slew of draft picks back the other way. Yet again, Poile was faced with an unenviable decision, much like he faced with Scott Stevens in Washington, and decided to match Philly's offer to lock up Weber for the duration of his career. This makes Weber the highest paid player in the NHL, with the bonuses and salary front-loaded in the contract, till 2017-18 (barring any other blockbuster contracts See: Stamkos, Steven). The fault in this contract was that Poile let it get to a point where another team dictated the scope of the contract and by backing Poile into an already familiar corner, the Flyers were able to handicap the Predators with a Brinks truckload of cash going to one player.
So far if you're keeping score, Poile has not signed a player to a contract for over $5M AAV...EVER. Not Kariya, not Suter, not even Weber (since he didn't have control of the contract). But, in 2012, that statistic changed.
The Only Exception: Pekka Rinne
In 2011-12, Pekka Rinne posted some amazing numbers. 43 wins, .922 SV% and a GAA of 2.39. David Poile rewarded the soon to be UFA with the most lucrative deal in Predators history (until the Weber offer-sheet), $7M AAV for seven years. This marks the first time Poile has legitimately paid top dollar for elite talent rather than trading it away or getting zero compensation when they venture into free agency. Rinne continues to be one of the most dominant goalies in the league and was well on his way in 2014-15 to a Vezina win until he was run over by Higgins/Volchenkov and was never the same. The real blemish is that Rinne, after multiple injuries and the hip infection a season ago, is battle-scarred and isn't getting any younger. His performance last season was exemplary, but how many seasons does Rinne have at this elite level of play? He will be 36 years old at the end of this contract and if the Predators continue to play him an exorbitant amount of games, it would not be surprising to see his numbers continue to plummet much like they did at seasons end.
Colin Wilson and Craig Smith received the typical under $5M contract for four and five years respectively this off-season. The current crop of expiring contracts after this season are the younger core of the Predators namely Filip Forsberg, Mattias Ekholm and Seth Jones.
The true question becomes whether Poile will become the architect for the Predator's success in the next few years; a window that will see diminishing returns on aging players like Weber and Rinne. Or will Poile continue to be the archetype...the also-ran GM that doesn't have the ability to retain top talent. Is it possible that Poile could bungle the contracts of these three soon-to-be elite players (Forsberg is already elite)? Could there be low-balling in negotiations? Could there be an arbitration hearing for one, two or all three of them as we have seen almost every summer in Poile's history? These are the questions that many Predators fans are asking and no one has been addressing, most importantly Poile himself.
It may be a season away, but if these three talented players have a similar if not better season this year than in 2014-15, can Poile draft that Tarasenko-esque contract for Forsberg? Can we trust that if deals can't get done that the Predators will get anything close to a reasonable compensation for Ekholm? or Jones?
Simply put...Is it a plan or a pattern?
Is David Poile an...