Is it time for Nashville to part ways with GM David Poile?
Earlier this season, GM David Poile said, “it’s not the coaches, it’s the players.” Maybe it’s not the players, maybe it’s Poile himself.
This is an editorial, and may not represent the views of the On the Forecheck staff as a whole.
Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile is the longest-tenured GM in the NHL. He is the sixth-longest tenured GM in NHL history — 23 years, 2 months — behind only:
- Jack Adams (34 years, 11 months, 12 days, with the Detroit Red Wings)
- Conn Smythe (30 years, 6 months, 18 days, with the Toronto Maple Leafs)
- Art Ross (29 years, 5 months, with the Boston Bruins)
- Harry Sinden (28 years, 27 days, also with the Boston Bruins)
- Lou Lamoriello (27 years, 7 months, 24 days, with the New Jersey Devils)/
The NHL came to Nashville on June 25, 1997 when the Board of Governors granted Leipold Hockey Holdings, LLC a conditional franchise. Poile was named the team’s general manager on July 9, according to the Predators’ team history. Nashville, through all of their ups and downs, has only had one GM.
Sure, an argument can be — and has been — made for why this is beneficial for a team; Poile has respect league-wide for his lengthy tenure. However, the Predators have gone all 22 years they’ve played without a Stanley Cup. In fact, the closest the Predators have ever come to hoisting the Cup was in 2017 when they took the Pittsburgh Penguins to six games in the Final. In 22 years, the Predators have seen three head coaches, the departure of numerous beloved team captains (most recently Shea Weber), a change in ownership, and a change in COO and team president. Throughout all the changes Nashville has seen, David Poile remained GM.
When is it time for the Predators to say, “maybe it isn’t us, maybe it’s you”? What will it take for Nashville to part ways with the only GM they’ve ever known? What level of consistent season-ending disappointment is the Predators’ ownership group willing to endure before making a change?
In January, when GMDP made the second head coaching change in Predators’ history, he noted that it was easier to change coaches than it is to change 22 players. During that same press conference, Poile pointed the finger at his team for the season’s struggles rather than his ousted coach. He called out the entire team, minus captain Roman Josi, for underperforming and said they had to make the decision to play better. Even with a coaching change, this current Predators team still struggled to find line chemistry and consistent wins during the regular season, and just saw an opening round exit from the Stanley Cup Qualifiers courtesy of the Arizona Coyotes.
Sure, he could be right; it could be the players that are the problem, but what does it say when every player the team signed in free agency or acquired through a trade in recent history has consistently underperformed in Nashville compared to their previous play with other teams? Is it the players? Or could it be stale team management? Poile hasn’t done anything particularly egregious as a GM, but lately he hasn’t done anything particularly inspiring either. He’s chased “big fish” free agents and made major, minor, and somewhere in between trades looking for success, but nothing is clicking in Nashville.
What does it say when every player the team signed in free agency or acquired through a trade in recent history has consistently underperformed in Nashville compared to their previous play?
You might be wondering what the correlation between on-ice production and the role of the GM are when it comes to deciding whether Poile is responsible for the lack of success. I’d argue that the GM is responsible for assembling the team, evaluating their production under the coaching staff, realizing when coaching decisions aren’t working, removing coaches that are no longer effective, and creating a culture of urgency to win. The GM also needs to ensure that the coach and the roster are compatible, instead of creating a “square peg, round hole” situation—get the players the coach needs, and get a coach who will work with the players they have.
As my colleague Bryan Bastin pointed out, six of the Predators’ highest-profile acquisitions average about nine goals fewer for Nashville than they did with their previous teams.
Johansen: 33 (career) / 15 (Preds)— Bryan Bastin #StatDad (@projpatsummitt) August 7, 2020
Grimaldi: 3/10 (his 3 was in 20 games only)
Ryan Johansen scored 33 goals when he was with the Columbus Blue Jackets during the 2013-2014 season. The following season, he scored seven fewer goals, but added 15 assists to reach a career high 71 points. However, in Nashville, Johansen peaked at 15 goals during the 2017-2018 season. The next season he reached his second-highest point total at 64, with a career high in assists (50), but he still wasn’t finding the back of the net himself.
Matt Duchene is one year into his whopping $56 million contract. GMDP courted Duchene in the offseason like he was the missing piece to the Preds’ postseason puzzle. After all, he scored 31 goals between his time in Ottawa and Columbus during the 2018-2019 season. Previously he’d scored 30 goals in Colorado during the 2015-2016 season. This season, Duchene netted a career low goals: 13. He struggled to find line chemistry the entire season and looked like a (cat)fish out of water in Nashville.
Mikael Granlund was acquired for Kevin Fiala — a home-grown drafted and developed young player. Rather than sticking with their own young talent and seeing him through a struggling season, Poile pulled the trigger and traded him to Minnesota for Granlund — largely seen as the same type of player with a few years more experience. Two years before Poile made the trade, Granlund had been a 26-goal scorer in the 2017-2018. However, when he moved down south, he only scored one goal in his first season with the Predators and couldn’t crack 20 this season. He, like Duchene, also struggled to find line chemistry and looked out of place with this team.
Nick Bonino — of “BONINO-BONINO-BONINO” fame (much to the chagrin of Predators fans) during the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals — was acquired by the Predators during that same offseason. Though in that season he scored the same amount of goals during the regular season (18) as he did this season, his value was in his postseason play. He was a solid middle-line man with dangerous scoring abilities. Those abilities didn’t follow him to Nashville though, not at first. This season was Bonino’s best in Nashville. He was arguably one of the Predators’ most consistent goal-scoring players — which doesn’t say much for the team this year. Though he has been mostly solid, it seems the Predators wasted most of his abilities in not knowing exactly what to do with him.
Kyle Turris is the hardest of these listed players to discuss. He struggled and earned the ire of Predators fans in his first full season in Nashville when he only scored seven goals during the 2018-2019 season. However, after taking the offseason to work on his game, he came back with a new attitude expecting a clean slate — one that he was not given. At some point this season, Turris found himself on the wrong side of then-head coach Peter Laviolette and was benched for multiple games. Even when it remained clear that on-ice production could not possibly be the reason why Turris was scratched game after game, Laviolette still did not put him back in the lineup. David Poile, himself, hinted that he didn’t know or understand why Turris wasn’t playing — and though he had the power to tell Laviolette to cut it out and end this strange punishment, he chose to do nothing.
After coming so close to hoisting the coveted Stanley Cup in 2017, David Poile has been desperate to capture success year after year. He traded away star defender P.K. Subban, choosing to focus on high-powered offense in hopes of solving the elusive problem keeping the Predators from the ultimate victory. However, losing all physicality on the defense has only added to the Predators’ list of problems and put more pressure on the top pairing of Josi and Ryan Ellis to pick up the slack.
Over the decades, Poile has been able to pull off flashy moves — from firing first-ever head coach Barry Trotz; to hiring a coach that found immediate, relative success more quickly; to trading for Norris-winning defender P.K. Subban; to making the Stanley Cup Final. Those moves can distract you from looking beyond the shine and shimmer and seeing that the Predators’ postseason success over the span of the franchise’s history isn’t impressive at all. Not only have they not won the big one, but they haven’t been close most years.
Currently, since the fateful game six loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Predators have been trending in reverse in terms of postseason success. As NHL writer Dimitri Filipovic pointed out on Twitter, the Predators have lost at least a round earlier each postseason than the season before.
Nashville Predators trajectory:— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) August 7, 2020
2016-17: Made it to Cup Final
2017-18: Lost in 2nd round
2018-19: Lost in 1st round
2019-20: Lost in Qualifying Round
At some point, team ownership has to evaluate the team and Poile’s unusually secure job and decide what is more important — loyalty or winning. With the current trajectory, it could be inferred that team ownership needs to step in and stop the bleeding before the Predators play themselves into a rebuild — which would be tragic considering the talent and youth currently on the roster.
The team as it stands isn’t a team of “losers,” though that’s what they’ve been reduced to. It’s sad to see the talent on this roster wasted on a team that doesn’t know what to do with them and isn’t willing to make the hard decisions to fix the problem.
Not everything that went wrong this season, or in any season prior, is David Poile’s fault. In fact, most issues probably aren’t his problem at all — but as the big man in charge, all problems fall under your umbrella. In the end, if the Predators do choose to part ways with Poile, they could choose to see it as Poile being a casualty of the team needing a fresh start rather than being the problem himself.
Either way, this feels like the end to me and the right time to say goodbye.